15 year-old Alejandro Duran, who comes from a religious Latino family, aspires to one day be a Catholic priest. But when Alex discovers a mysterious box he unwittingly unleashes a demonic spirit bent on possessing him. Alex must find a way to defeat this ancient demon, which has been tormenting children since the dawn of man, before it destroys him and everyone he loves. On the surface Devil's Whisper is a supernatural horror film about demonic possession but at its core it's a psychological thriller about repressed memories, childhood trauma and the cycle of abuse.
Marcos A. Ferraez
It’s kind of a bummer when a film hits almost all of the right notes, and yet is still unable to reach beyond an all-encompassing label of “cookie-cutter”.
Last week’s World Premiere screening of Devil’s Whisper at the 20th Annual Dances with Films in Los Angeles – perfectly fits that description.
Teenaged Alex (Luca Oriel) plans to join the priesthood once he comes of age. He lives with his mother Lucia (Tessie Santiago), father Marcos (Marcos A. Ferraez) and his precocious younger sister Alicia (Alison Fernandez). They’re deeply involved in their church – headed by Father Cutler (Rick Ravanello). After Alex’s grandmother dies, her belongings are shipped to their home. Inside an antique armoire, Alex finds an intricately-constructed wooden box. There are no seams, no latches, no way to open it – but something is rattling around inside. Alex and his father finally manage to open the box (but not without destroying it) – where inside, they find an old crucifix which once belonged to Alex’s now-deceased grandfather. With the box open, family secrets and a terrifying demon are unleashed. Alex goes from a goody-two-shoes intent on becoming a priest, to a moody and dangerous young man.
Alex is becoming possessed.
Across the board, performances are solid. You’ll easily buy into the relationships (particularly the well-written family dynamic) and you’ll believe these characters and their authentic interactions. But there are two standouts from this strong ensemble worthy of mention.
One is lead actor Luca Oriel as Alex. He captures the essence of a troubled teen. And when the going gets rough, he doesn’t hold back. His outburst in the backseat of his parent’s car – after a random crime-spree – is a powerful moment, and Oriel sells it. And when he needs to get emotional – particularly in the jail cell scene – you’ll walk away impressed with this young actor’s work. Imagine what he’ll accomplish as he gains more experience! I would venture to say that he’s someone to keep an eye on.
The other performance which shines above the rest, comes from Rick Ravanello – as Alex’s mentor, Father Cutler. His deep voice and the sense that he’s a “strong, silent type” brings a lot of weight to what could have been a very secondary, almost throwaway character. You’ll feel as though Alex is safe in his tutelage, so when Cutler begins to experience some strange things himself (allowing Ravanello to really emote), you’ll feel a bit more unsure about what’s going to happen and the actual levels of safety which Cutler can provide. And that’s a good thing. Ravanello’s finest moment comes as Cutler and Alex discuss Cutler’s experience one night alone in the chuch; as Alex falls into something of a trance.
The film has plenty of great “boo” moments – many of which will have you laughing immediately after – ‘cause you know they’re coming, but they make you jump anyway.
The visual effects are impressive. The creature is a cross between the monster of 2005’s Boogeyman, your typical rendering of the Slenderman and the aliens out of Signs (overall, there’s a weird feeling akin to M. Night Shyamalan’s alien classic). And when the climax hits and the creature shows off all of its tricks, it’s a grandly frightening scene!
The film looks good. It’s got some powerful editing, very cool lighting (all of the scenes in the confessional look fantastic) and a decent pace.
So even with all of these lovely pieces, why does the film still fail to impress overall?
Well, that’s where the term “cookie-cutter” comes in. No new ground is broken here. Other than a few surprises (Father Cutler’s discovery one late night alone in the chapel is disturbing), this follows the typical possession film track. Alex’s increasing irritability, more and more frightening images, turning to the church for help and then a grand stand-off – well, we’ve seen all of these things before, many times.
So how do you rate a horror film with so many quality pieces, but which fails to inspire true terror? It’s not original, but it’s a decent piece of film-making. Ugh, who put me in this position to make decisions?
It all boils down to my claim of unoriginality. The very base piece to any film is the script. Not that good scripts are the only thing allowed to go all the way through production and into release (with so many dreadful films floating out there, we know a good script isn’t a prerequisite to getting made), but what hurts most about Devil’s Whisper, is that so many things about the script are good. That aforementioned family relationship is well-written. The dialogue of the kids is mostly believable – and getting the dialogue of children right, it’s no small task. It’s the overriding theme and sequence of events which don’t impress.
A fun bit of trivia – the film was co-written by none other than Oliver Robins; aka Robbie Freeling of the Poltergeist films. Also credited with writing is director Adam Ripp and Paul Todisco.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with Devil’s Whisper. It looks good, the actors are pros and there are some genuinely good scares and an interesting monster. But it never makes its way past the standard devil movie/possession flick clichés (of which there are many). And in this day and age – over 40 years beyond The Exorcist – it’s time to find break some new ground.
Every horror subgenre still has some juice to be squeezed from tired old ideas, and it’s a welcome and rare marvel when that happens. Sadly, Devil’s Whisper is not one of those marvels – regardless of how many good things it actually contains. And there’s that apt term “bummer” again.
Devil’s Whisper has been picked up for distribution through Sony Home Entertainment and Vega Baby Releasing, but no specific release date has been announced.