Starring Ali Larter, Wilmer Calderon, Kurt Carley, Joe Egender, Merrin Dungey
Directed by Alistair Legrand
Directed by Alistair Legrand, The Diabolical wants to be a forward thinking blend of ghost house family drama and hard sci-fi but it doesn’t explore its good ideas fully enough to find real success in its twist when it’s eventually revealed. The idea at the center of the story is a good one, but it gets bogged down in a contained melodrama that derails its more frightening moments.
Almost refreshing because so many filmmakers are steering away from it in favor of a “slow burn,” the opening scene isn’t afraid to pull out the big guns from minute one, showing single Mom Madison (Ali Larter) talking to herself and praying that whatever has been happening over and over on so many nights doesn’t happen tonight. Then, it happens. A tortured, ectoplasmic figure appears seemingly out of nowhere, writhing towards Madison in a way that makes you wonder if it’s hellbent on inflicting pain or begging for help. Then, it vanishes in a quick flash of light that looks like reality just swallowed it up entirely.
The make-up and just the unexpected suddenness of this moment is enough to spark interest, but when it returns to “haunt” Madison and her child, it’s more of the same so instead of inflicting fright, the entity starts to be a great special effect that wears out its welcome during the middle of the film. A love interest who’s also a scientist is brought in to comfort Madison in the form of the exotic Miguel (Wilmer Calderon) and possibly help discover just what exactly is happening at the property, but it’s a relationship that feels formulaic and ordinary just when things should start to be ramped up by answering some, now, not so pressing questions.
When the turn card in The Diabolical does come, it’s a bizarre explanation but it is, undeniably, the most interesting point in the film. Instead of a classic haunting, what’s happening has more to do with unholy experimentation than any kind of evidence of an afterlife but not enough time is dedicated to exploring a very interesting idea that has the potential to be much more fleshed out. Ali Larter doesn’t seem to know exactly what’s going on either and never quite convinces as a single Mom.
The Diabolical just doesn’t do enough with its entire running time and it serves as an example of how the new model of an old horror trope with a new twist is growing tired as well. Still, there is enough thought-provoking sci-fi horror at the climax to maybe justify a watch if you’re looking to watch every new release that comes out.