Along Came the Devil
After a troubled childhood, Ashley searches for a connection, and unknowingly invites in a demonic force, which leaves her loved ones fighting for her soul.
August 10th, 2018
And when I can throw out a reference from this film to properly make my point, by gum, I will.
Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) says to her cleaning lady, in one of her “does this look clean?” crazy-spells: “If you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.”
Now. Let me tinker a bit with that dialogue, make a minor adjustment. Yes, there we are.
“If you can’t do something new, don’t do it at all.”
In the defense of the new horror indie, Along Came the Devil, there really are very few “original” or “new” ideas. But there are certainly new ways to tell a similar story. Play with the perspective. Change up a character’s sex. Set it in the 1700s. There are any number of ways to fiddle with an overdone story. And frankly, I’ll have respect if there’s an attempt to set your film apart from what must have been your “source material”.
But to so blatantly pilfer ideas, set pieces, makeup effects from William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Exorcist (in many circles – the most terrifying film ever made) – is pointless, if not wholly disrespectful.
Along Came the Devil feels like a “Cliff’s Notes” version of The Exorcist, but instead of focusing on the deeper, more important themes of that story (loss of one’s faith, guilt over an aging parent, a mother’s desperation), it goes for the basic cheap thrills (weird voices, shadows and crazy contact lenses).
I also found it abhorrent that the film had the gall to actually call out The Exorcist within its screenplay. To me, it felt as though the filmmakers were attempting to play off the fact that they’ve basically copied that superior film’s story. “By calling out this comparison, our desperate un-originality might be sort of forgiven.”
Well, it wasn’t.
Now that I’ve let off some of that initial steam, let me tell you what it’s about.
A young girl messes with the supernatural and becomes possessed by a devil or a demon. Her guardian tries to help her. The girl sees a psychiatrist and a primary care physician. The guardian then turns to the church (one aging priest who has seen it all, and a younger priest – this is his first time in battle/performing an exorcism). The girl kills people, is restrained in her bed, spouts languages she doesn’t know, drools bile from her mouth and speaks in obscenities and multiple voices at once.
Get the picture?
Other than the obvious complaints (see the rant above), Along Came the Devil feels very vanilla. There is no grit, no authenticity and zero unease. (Again – “Cliff’s Notes” – missing the nuance and detail of The Exorcist). Drone shots and other uninspired camera angles and mostly bland lighting do nothing to create suspense.
Performances are all quite dull. But nothing can compare to the work of the lead actress Sydney Sweeney. Of course, the terrible script does her a great disservice, but there was nothing behind her acting choices. She rarely emoted until the character moves into full-on possession (she mumbled a great deal) – but then she was assisted by the vocal gymnastics of the sound folks, and the great work of the make-up crew and stunt people. All of her early teenage angst and grief – none of it sold. It’s gotta be one of the most lackluster and unsympathetic lead performances I’ve seen in some time.
Veteran character actor Bruce Davison is usually a welcome addition to any cast, but here – his performance is simply over-the-top and absolutely nothing special.
I will say that some of the makeup effects and visual tricks are pretty well done – even if we’ve seen similar work from the late, great Dick Smith.
(Are you growing tired of the constant call-outs to The Exorcist? Imagine watching this film!)
The prologue immediately turned me off to the film. There are four (brief) paragraphs of exposition printed for the taking – prior to the opening scene. I’m sorry. But that is seriously lazy. If it’s that important, work it into the script and the story. One bit of that said information is then repeated visually (an abusive father) immediately following. So why did this need to be imparted in writing?
The film is also structurally disjointed. The scenes outside of Ashley’s every day existence (notably the few separate moments between Father Michael and Pastor John) feel like last minute add-ons – doing nothing to push the pace or the story along. They feel like place-holders and other than the fact that the film MUST have priests – their presence is useless.
And on the topic of the film’s pace – it dragged. Other than a few odd shadows and the usual “bumps in the night”, nothing happened. And by the time The Exorcist “paint-by-numbers” showed up in the third act, I had already checked out.
But as is my norm – I’ll point out something which I liked (beyond the make-up/visual effects). During the film’s climax, there’s a beautifully composed shot in the church – as Father Michael takes center stage to cast out the demon. Behind him are Pastor John (co-producer Matt Dallas) and Ashley’s guardian Tanya (Ashley’s mother’s old friend). The lighting, and character placement is quite nice. So there’s that.
The bottom line here is – what was the point of this film? It’s a tough sell to attempt a dethroning of Friedkin’s film, but if there’s not some sort of valiant and “holy cats, amazing!” effort to bring something new to the devil/possession sub-genre, then again, what’s the point?
You know what? Let me fall back to the original version of the Mommie Dearest line. ‘Cause it still applies to Along Came the Devil in its correct form.
“If you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.”
Along Came the Devil is scheduled for theatrical release (as well as on VOD) on August 10th, 2018.