The demonic possession/exorcism movie is unique in the wide world of horror flicks because the first one ever done, The Exorcist, pretty much hit it out of the park and remains the gold standard of the genre. That hasn’t stopped other filmmakers from laboring in its very long shadow, though, and occasionally a good wannabe appears.
The microbudget shocker Along Came the Devil is well aware of its precedecessors, in particular The Exorcist. Two of its teenaged characters even discuss The Exorcist in dialogue. That’s a little like saying “Yeah, but did you see Jaws?” during Shark Week.
Director/co-writer Jason DeVan knows this, and plows ahead with a completely self-aware self confidence. The point of Along Came the Devil is not to remake The Exorcist – he doesn’t have the budget to in the first place. What he is trying to do, and pretty damn effectively, is make the now slightly antiquated genre more relevant for today’s younger, hipper horror audiences.
In DeVan’s movie, Ashley (Sydney Sweeney, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale) is sent to live with her estranged Aunt Tanya (Jessica Barth, Ted 2). She begins to have visions of her deceased mom, driving her to attempt contact with the spirit world. Ashley unknowingly unearths a demonic force, which leaves her loved ones fighting for her soul. The film also stars Matt Dallas (Painted Woman), Bruce Davison (Insidious: The Last Key), Madison Lintz (Amazon Prime Video’s Bosch), and Heather DeVan. According to the opening credits, the story is based on true events.
That “based on true events” tag has huge caché with fans of demonic possession stories. Even though it was based on a novel, everyone knew The Exorcist was supposed to be based on an actual case, and ever since then, you can’t beat that as a selling point. Besides, people who would discount the existence of vampires, werewolves and the walking/living/cannibalistic dead out of hand are often open-minded on the possibility of demonic possession. If you think it can happen to you, it’s that much scarier.
DeVan also milks his modest budget for every penny, and his possession makeup and special effects will hold their own against the high-priced spread. Shots of the possessed Ashley up on the ceiling are unnerving to say the least. One of his secret weapons is cinematographer Justin Duval, who’s shot a handsome-looking product.
The performances are serviceable across the board, but Bruce Davison, a veteran, seasoned hand, is particularly good in the resident exorcist role, a pastor with a past, who when his young associate (Matt Dallas) picks up a book on demonology, tells him “Some books should stay on the shelf.” In Along Came the Devil, you can’t take it for granted that good is going to triumph over evil, and that’s an unnerving proposition. But those clouds hang over this story from the get-go, casting shadows that generate a fair amount of suspense. Generally, the comforting thing about demonic possession stories is that if the movie presumes the existence of a devil and demonic minions, it also has to presume the existence of an ultimately benevolent God and His gentler angels. Since we also tend to presume the automatic primacy of good over evil, demonic possession audiences may be unusually primed for happy endings. Audiences will figure out pretty quickly that there is no guarantee of a happy ending here.
DeVan also delivers the shocks pretty much on cue. Scary faces jump in front of his camera with enough regularity for this movie to deliver the goods to audiences used to the more expensive Conjuring, Insidious and Ouija movies. There might not be any pea soup vomit or heads rotating 180°, but Along Came the Devil competes effectively in the genre, and might well cause you to lose a little sleep.
Along Came The Devil opens this Friday, August. 10 – in theaters, VOD and Digital HD.