Starring Ali Larter, Arjun Gupta, Max Rose, Chloe Perrin, Patrick Fischler
Directed by Alistair Legrand
Single mother Madison (Larter) has a lot on her plate. With the spectre of her husband’s death hanging over the household (perhaps quite literally), she’s also lumbered with a young son sporting violent behavioural issues, and a lack of income that’s seeing her fall behind on mortgage payments.
But all of that pales in comparison to the terrifying nightly visits of the shrieking ghoul that inhabits her home.
Debut director Alistair Legrand wastes no time getting to the goods in The Diabolical – dropping us straight into the middle of one of Madison’s frequent encounters with the gruesome entity that plagues her family. It’s a confident start, done with unexpected finesse and a sense that what we’re seeing here maybe isn’t going to be your cookie-cutter haunted house flick.
And The Diabolical most certainly isn’t.
Desperate for help, Madison enlists a group of professional ghost hunters who, after some brief testing, leg it from the property. “We can’t help you!”, is all they can say – meanwhile Madison’s young daughter is convinced that the shadowy figure appearing in her closet is the friendly ghost of her deceased father.
Things seem to look up when apparently friendly executive, Austin (Fischler), appears at the door offering to purchase the home with enough cash for Madison and her kids to leave – but in a terrible turn of events, Madison soon learns that her children cannot leave the house. Something has a hold of them, and straying too far from the property could have fatal consequences.
As the apparition’s visitations become increasingly startling and confrontational in nature, Madison’s science teacher boyfriend, Nikolai (Gupta), gets involved in attempts to unravel just how to rid the family of their unwanted guest.
Until the reveal, The Diabolical is a pretty well crafted haunting flick. The scares are quite effective, marred only by occasional dodgy CGI, while Larter shines as the desperate single mother – constantly at breaking point as she’s forced to juggle one responsibility after another, the balls inevitably tumbling down at the most inopportune moment. Child actors Max Rose and Chloe Perrin deliver layered turns that manage to make them more than just cynical tools for generating tension.
The family dynamic feels real, and is ultimately the thread that keeps The Diabolical from falling apart in a bold switch to science fiction territory. It latches on with a compelling mystery and gradually puts the pieces together as it heads towards a much darker climax than expected, given the rather tame nature of the ghostly shenanigans it has hitherto dished up.
In getting the answers out, the film does rely too much on exposition during an admittedly shaky finale, but the reality behind Madison’s family’s haunting is a greater personal nightmare than expected – Larter’s performance tugging on the heartstrings as the truth outs and the narrative cements an assured cycle of horror and regret.
The Diabolical isn’t perfect, but writer/director Legrand deserves praise for adding a brave new spin on a tired genre, and managing to pull it off with no small help from his cast. It won’t scare you to death, but still leaves its mark as a stand-out entry – an unexpected treat with a thoroughly human core.