Directed by Sean Hogan
Two hitmen come face to face with the power of demonic magic in Sean Hogan’s micro-budget British horror The Devil’s Business. An exercise in slow-burning tension, intimate characterisation and moody visuals, The Devil’s Business follows duo Pinner (Clarke) and Cully (Gordon – also seen in this year’s Panic Button [review here]), a pair of assassins in the employ on mob boss Bruno (Harry Miller). Tasked with the disposal of Bruno’s ex-business partner, the mysterious Kist (Hansler), Pinner and Cully break into his home and await his return from the opera, aiming to catch him unawares and deliver the cleanest kill possible.
A grizzled veteran of the business, Pinner is somewhat incensed with his inexperienced younger partner. This being his first job, Gordon’s Cully is a naive and unprofessional sort with an immediate sense of being in way over his head. In between proclaiming boredom, putting his feet on the furniture, and complaining about being thirsty, Cully attempts to glean as much knowledge of the professional killer lifestyle as he can from the increasingly agitated Pinner. With the dark, spooky atmosphere getting to him, Cully asks Pinner if he has ever encountered anything of the ghostly sort, and from here The Devil’s Business truly takes flight. Pinner’s ensuing tale of love lost within the mob and ghostly visitations is delivered in a sterling monologue by Clarke – his eyes a road map of regret, fear, and solemn weariness – and ends with a masterfully timed and entirely unexpected old-school shock.
Investigating the work shed outside, Pinner and Cully come across satanic etchings, a makeshift altar populated with animal remains, and the body of a mutilated newborn. Reporting their findings to Bruno, they are told with no uncertainty that Kist must die and informed of his background as a known dabbler in the black arts. Shortly after, Kist makes his return from the opera to meet his demise at the business end of Pinner’s silencer – but when the body disappears, it would seem that somebody else is in on the night’s events, and both Pinner and Cully finds themselves dealing with much, much more than they’d bargained for.
With a literal cast of four individuals, Hogan’s The Devil’s Business is a low-budget triumph grounded by sterling performances across the board. Northern Irish actor Billy Clarke is forced to handle many long streams of dialogue and does so with aplomb, keeping his composure even when the character’s occasionally over-written dialogue threatens to overwhelm him. As Cully, Gordon is simply spot on – initially annoying, always naive, and ultimately sympathetic, he’s a character that you can’t help but empathise with and, in a sense, feel sorry for. Hansler’s Kist carries the learned, confident air of a very powerful and dangerous individual, his erudite behaviour always betraying a sense of bubbling malevolence just under the surface.
Hogan’s direction is tight and focused, emphasising drawn-out tension, long static shots and a growing sense of creeping horror over kinetic visuals. The Devil’s Business drips an “old dark house” atmosphere from the screen, with simple everyday environments turned eerie through efficient use of shadow and light. The film’s constant rewards, be they in terms of lighting, visuals, performances or sound design, ensure that the slow pacing and lengthy scenes of dialogue never feel like an encumbrance on a simple story well told. At 75 minutes in length, it doesn’t hang around long enough to do itself a disservice, and while some slightly ropey and over-shown creature effects during the final scenes clash harshly with the less-is-more approach of what precedes them, The Devil’s Business remains a proudly old-school slice of horror. Pervasively creepy and genuinely chilling, Hogan’s film immediately plants itself amongst the cream of the British indie crop. In terms of delivery, think Ti West’s The House of the Devil meets the best “Twilight Zone” episode never made. If that sounds up your street, make sure to keep an eye out for The Devil’s Business when it eventually sees the light of a general release.
4 out of 5