Scary movies are like all you can eat sushi bars, they’re often better in theory than in execution and when they’re bad you can smell the stink coming off of them from a mile away. However, when you come across a great one, the experience stays with you for a long time and you want to share it with everybody. Director Alistair Legrand does his best to push his feature film debut, The Diabolical, into the latter category. The Diabolical offers slick visuals, a killer score, and a genre-bending script that make for a film that is often more ambitious than entertaining.
In The Diabolical, Ali Larter plays Madison, a single mother trying to manage a household that just can’t catch a break. Madison is still learning to cope with the death of her husband, she is considering filing for bankruptcy, and her oldest child, Jacob (Max Rose), needs professional help for his temper issues — there is also the not so insignificant issue of malevolent entities haunting their house. When the home’s diabolical presence sends a couple of paranormal investigators scrambling for the door, Madison’s only hope may be accepting the offer of an unctuous front man for a corporation interested in buying her property.
The Diabolical looks to breathe new life into an exhausted genre. First off, the movie begins in the middle of the haunting. While most films start with the family slowly figuring out what’s happening to them, The Diabolical shows the audience how the family is affected by living under a constant state of terror. Jacob is mandated to see a social worker and clearly has a form of PTSD. It’s a grounded take on such a far-out genre that makes a lot of sense. In the 1982 movie Poltergeist, evil spirits suck poor little Carol Anne into her family’s television. After Carol Anne’s abduction into a nether-dimension, how could she ever feel safe again? At the very least she would require a live-in therapist for the rest of her life.
While The Diabolical looks to push back against haunted house movie conventions, it still retreads many of the genre’s tropes. The film has a cool twist in the third act that changes one’s perspective on the film, but it takes so long getting to the reveal that much of the audience will have already tuned out. On a purely technical level the film is fantastic. The Diabolical looks great and has an unsettling soundtrack that both go a long way towards creating a movie that feels much larger than a product of its modest budget has any right to.
The Diabolical should be applauded for attempting to mix things up in the haunted house genre; however, it never clears the high bar that it sets for itself. Had The Diabolical’s story been on par with its technical execution, it could have been something special. The Diabolical’s script almost gets it right, and it feels like the movie is on the cusp of a much better story. Legrand shows enough skill behind the camera and potential as a storyteller that both his work and The Diabolical’s universe are worth revisiting in future stories.