Dir. Able Vang and Burlee Vang (2016)
A group of teens are hunted down by a presence that connects to them via an app on their phone.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It’s a great idea, really, especially for a film released six years ago: a horror movie based around an artificial intelligence app that starts controlling things in real life while making your worst fears come true. Countdown, another movie with a similar premise (well, similar in that it was based on an app) was godawful, and showed how difficult it can be to blend technology and horror, especially when the people writing the horror don’t understand the technology. Bedeviled puts itself in danger of following the same path, but it wisely sidesteps a lot of the problems that Countdown ran into because it plants its feet firmly in the realm of the supernatural rather than the scientific. Instead of focusing on the technological aspect of the film, it focuses on the horror itself, which helps to separate it from the more banal entries into the subgenre.
Plus, it’s got clowns. Absolutely fuck clowns.
Dark ambience and slick cinematography paves the way for what becomes a generically creepy film. The creature/demon design is cool, and had the film been better it could’ve set the scene for a franchise. The voiceover used for the app is genuinely creepy, and while there are definitely some opportunities missed throughout the film to create an actually scary movie, there are a few effective scenes that may make the whole thing worth the price of admission (especially when you can find it for free somewhere like Tubi). Unfortunately, the scares are commonplace and PG-13 tame despite the R rating, and the film fits snugly into the generic teen horror subgenre. The question becomes, of course, whether or not this is a bad thing. Depending on your point of view or preferences within the horror genre, it very well may not be.
Part of the problem with modern horror, and part of the problem with critiquing the same, is that every film, and sometimes every scene, is generally based around the tropes that are specific to the genre. One of the hardest things about critiquing horror as a whole is that you can’t gripe too much about tropes because their consistent presence is the reason that they’re tropes. I mean, after all, that’s what a trope is. What makes a horror film stand out from the dregs of the genre is when there are genuinely clever and new ideas that are present alongside those tropes, and Bedeviled has enough of those that it feels fresher than most of its ilk. However, the overreliance on those tropes does make it seem a bit stale, and it keeps it from separating itself from the other films it parallels. More often than not, you feel like you’ve seen all of this done before.
It’s even got fake Lindsay Lohan, though it’s a far cry better than I Know Who Killed Me.
One incredibly awkward scene that deserves comment is the scene with the Cody, the Black member of the teen group who is brilliant and tech-savvy, is on the bus. He begins to whistle a classical song, and a lady behind him on the bus recognizes it and says it’s beautiful. He approaches the woman, seemingly in good humor, and then says that he whistles classical tunes in public to keep people from being afraid of him. Fair enough so far, it’s an interesting approach and observation to make, especially in a world that has recently revealed that racism is very much alive. However, he then kinda randomly accuses the woman of being “negrophobic,” or scared of black people, and says that he’s much more scared of them. “White women and your mace,” cops, etc. I mean… ok, fine, I get what he’s saying. But this dude has been very pleasant throughout the film so far, with no indication that he has a chip on his shoulder, and he just randomly verbally assaults this woman for no fucking reason at all. There are plenty of folks in the world who would be deserving of this treatment, and if there had perhaps been a scene leading up to this in which the woman indicated that she was racist in any way, it would’ve made sense. Instead, we just have Cody arbitrarily harassing this woman who said something nice to him. It’s a weird scene, it in no way fits with the scene its in, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable and makes the character extremely unlikeable. After he finishes his verbal attack, the woman awkwardly gets off the bus and he goes about his merry way, as if nothing that happened in the previous thirty seconds even occurred. Very weird scene, as uncomfortable as it is unnecessary.
Who this movie is for: Teen horror fans; Techno-horror lovers; App developers looking for an edge
Bottom line: A scary-looking bad guy, as well as some well-done scenes, make Bedeviled worth a watch. It’s not the greatest, but it’s certainly not the worst either. It’s fairly generic, and if you miss it you won’t be missing much that you haven’t seen elsewhere. That being said, if you want some mindless entertainment that won’t leave low expectations wanting, give it a shot if you can find it streaming for free. It’s like a cross between Countdown and Truth or Dare with a splash of It, but it’s way better than Countdown and not nearly as good as Truth or Dare, and you really gotta go with a scarier clown if you want favorable comparisons to It. All in all, it’s a well-made film that doesn’t feel like a straight-to-video offering. While it’s certainly not groundbreaking, and it doesn’t deliver on all of its promises, it’s an interesting premise and it’s a film that feels like it could’ve gotten a wider theatrical release. It depends too much on cliché to be as good as the concept deserves, but it’s a good-looking film with a creepy villain. You can’t ask for a whole lot more than that from a movie like this, and there may be a couple of scenes that you don’t expect amongst the sameness. The cast does a really good job working with what they’re given, and the Vang brothers bring it home with a very watchable film. Just don’t expect it to blow you away and you’ll be alright.