Even without it's ace-card of a twist, The Diabolical would be worth a watch, even for those who are a little tired of this kind of horror film.
The haunted house movie was essentially the sub-genre that killed torture porn. There was a momentary sigh of relief as everyone settled into their new favourite way to be scared every October, but since the first Paranormal Activity we’ve had five sequels, three Insidious films, two Conjurings (with a third on the way) and a whole host of pale imitations. Not to mention that Poltergeist (the film that they all draw on) has been given a crummy remake, that itself feels like an Insidious clone.
The point is, there’s little fresh life left in the genre. You know the routine by now. Family move into new house. Kids see some weird shit. Parents are unreasonably skeptical as a chair does the fucking Can-Can in front of them. Someone goes missing or into a coma. Creepy doll. Experts are called in. Creepy doll. Victim rescued. This house is clean (or is it?) See you next year.
Which brings us to The Diabolical, the feature debut of Alistair Legrand, which gets off to a good start by skipping past the whole ‘It’s probably just a draft/electrical interference’ bit, and jumping right into the heat of the full on haunting. The usual family dynamic is in place (albeit without a patriarch) as single-mother Madison (Ali Larter) struggles to cope with the stress of raising her two children, whilst simultaneously being greeted by a deformed corpse in her kitchen every night. When the children fall prey to an unusual sickness, which leaves them unable to leave the house, she has no choice but to confront whatever is happening. She subsequently seeks help from her scientist boyfriend Nikolai about the disturbances, and the pair begin to unravel the central mystery at the heart of the haunting.
The genius of The Diabolical lies in its third act twist, which isn’t impossible to see coming (there’s plenty of clues along the way) but which totally changes up the formula. It’s less of a grand and shocking revelation, and more of a slowly peeled away twist, more likely to provoke intrigue than gasps. No spoilers here, but genre blending ensues. It’s an inspired idea, the kind that will have you wondering why no one ever thought of it before, but also the kind that makes perfect sense, and doesn’t contradict anything from earlier in the film. But even without the twists it’s still above average, thanks to some legitimately creepy ghost designs, an avoidance of cheap jump scares, and a believable family dynamic at the core.
The only thing really holding The Diabolical back are some pacing issues. More discerning viewers will be able to figure out where it’s heading just a little bit before it gets there, and there’s the odd place where it starts to feel a little draggy.
Nonetheless this is a clever, and confident debut, that proves there’s still life in the haunted house genre, just as long people are willing to put in a little effort. And unlike the aforementioned films, this one actually leaves room for a fairly interesting sequel, should it choose to go down that route.
The Diabolical (2015), directed by Alistair Legrand, is released in the UK by Content Media. Certificate 15. Full details of all of the films showing at Film4 FrightFest can be found here.