By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Sydney Sweeney, Matt Dallas and Jessica Barth
Directed by Jason DeVan
Written by Jason DeVan and Heather DeVan
Far too many films in the demons-coming-home-to-roost subgenre employ possession simply as a makeshift bomb to be tossed into a narrative at the earliest possible convenience. Perhaps if the explosion of jump scares and prefab effects is fast and bright enough, these filmmakers seem to reason, no one will notice the lazy characterizations and plot holes. In this respect, as well as many others, director/co-writer Jason DeVan’s ALONG CAME THE DEVIL is a breath of fresh brimstone-tinged air—an intimate yet still harrowing interweaving of supernatural horror, domestic drama and teen angst.
Life has given young Ashley (Sydney Sweeney of THE HANDMAID’S TALE) a particularly hard row to hoe: Occult obsessions robbed her missing-and-presumed-dead mother (Heather DeVan) of her sanity even before she disappeared. Her father filled that subsequent void with abuse and anger rather than love. Now Sydney has been sent to live with an aunt (Jessica Barth) she barely knows in a hometown that is even stranger to her, while her beloved sister escapes to college. On the bright side, her childhood friends seem eager to welcome her back into the circle. Unfortunately, this in-crowd has a set of hobbies not exactly conducive to Ashley’s recovery—firing up EVP apps on their phones with little prodding and carelessly summoning spirits from the realm of the dead, to name a couple.
In this, Ashley comes to see a new avenue for finally unravelling the secrets obscuring her young life. She reaches out to her dead mother—and as seasoned genre fans may suspect, what comes through that brief open portal to the other side is a much more malicious entity. From Ashley to her teen crew to the hip young local priest (Matt Dallas)—who, shades of THE EXORCIST, for the first time faces the terrifying possibility of having to wield his faith as a weapon rather than abstraction—the ensuing hellspawned chaos forces everyone to re-evaluate not only their beliefs, but also what they’re willing to do to defend their souls and survive.
Despite some obvious budget limitations and a few awkward transitions/discombobulations, ALONG CAME THE DEVIL proves an engaging experience. The performances—particularly Sweeney, but no duds here whatsover—are multifaceted and naturalistic. The effects—courtesy of FACE OFF alum George Troester—bring multiple surrealistic nightmares to vivid life. Director DeVan is clever and bold enough to give the emotional element as much heft and breathing room as the horrific, and has populated the film with diverse, fully realized characters. No matter what experience and/or baggage you bring to this film, you will likely find an avatar here to explore it through.
Most importantly, ALONG CAME THE DEVIL takes the theology seriously enough to make you take it seriously—a prerequisite for effectiveness in a film such as this. Open yourself up to it, and the movie will no doubt raise more questions than it answers…and more specters than it vanquishes.