From a young age, Phillip (Jamie Paul) has known real terror. After his sister is killed by a shadowy figure, Phillip has grappled with the reality that a demonic presence has marked him. Through prayer and a strong relationship with his mother, the presence was kept at bay, giving him some semblance of normality...
...Fast forward to adulthood, and Phillip’s life has taken a turn for the best after meeting Catherine (Sonya Cullingford). But as the lovebirds will quickly learn, demons are never satisfied.
Directed by Alessio Liguori and co-written by Daniele Cosci, In The Trap is a demonic possession narrative executed with confidence and precision that eludes most indie horror. The film’s presentation is methodical from its brooding lighting, atmosphere, and smart camera manipulation, making it a peg above most possession horror. These elements are vital in crafting the film’s haunting atmosphere, which is imperative to its strong (mostly) singular location storytelling.
After suffering yet another demonic tragedy, Phillip secludes himself from the outside world, becoming a prisoner in his own home. A majority of the film unfolds within the haunted confines of his childhood apartment. Apartment horror is a sub-genre favorite of mine, as it forces the director to creatively utilize its limited space, which Liguori pulls off exceedingly well.
The pain of Phillip’s tragic history is around every corner of his unit, made palpable by effecting set design and foreboding lighting. What was once a loving home now reflects Phillip’s perpetual torment and deteriorating sanity. Crosses are draped over windows and doors. Children’s laughter is heard from his deceased sister’s bedroom. A broom closet has been configured into a safe room, religious imagery lining every inch of its walls. Each of these details may seem routine, but it is the way the film’s scares are built around them that makes In The Trap succeed where many have failed.
Liguori and Cosci aren’t concerned with inundating the viewer with cheap jump scares, opting to focus on nuanced scares that exploit the protagonist’s grief. This is the basis of the most influential demonic horror films, the devil forcing his victims to recount their trauma in a bid to break their willpower. Watching as each scare, no matter how subtle or elaborate effects Phillip’s sanity, is where the real horror of the film lies. A sudden phone call that plays Catherine’s favorite classical music or a lost relic from his past suddenly re-emerges. Nothing is inconsequential as this is the devil’s design.
For a non-religious person like myself, this makes the concept of the devil more terrifying than any pitchfork-wielding caricature.
In The Trap continues to make the most of its small scale by filling its handful of roles with memorable performances. Jamie Paul shines as the film’s tragic figure, giving both a passionate and heartbreaking performance as a downtrodden victim. He is flanked by Pirates of the Caribbean alum David Bailie, playing Phillip’s life-long spiritual council Father Andrew. Bailie serves as the voice of reason and beacon of hope in a world that lashes out at those residing within it. Rounding out the core trio of characters is Sonya Cullingford, who gives one hell of a frighteningly physical performance. While an intentional narrative decision, I couldn’t help but want more of her given how memorable and terrifying her contortionist physicality was.
For all of In The Trap’s stellar atmosphere, disturbing hauntings, and solid performances, the demonic cherry on top is Masssimiliano Mechelli’s score. Evoking other haunting films such as Insidious and The Conjuring, his score blends astonishingly well to fit the temperament of each scene. It is always heightening tense moments while capturing the grief of more somber ones. The score is another facet of the film’s stellar production value as a whole that makes a strong impression from its opening moments.
In The Trap is an affecting horror film that will resonate with fans of demonic horror because it shies away from cheap scares in favor of delivering smartly subtle ones which tear at the foundation of its character’s sanity. Despite its narrative’s straightforward premise early on, the twists and turns it takes in the third act give it the creativity and longevity to make it a horror standout.
Fall In The Trap when it arrives on Digital/VOD on April 10th from Dark Sky Films.
By Jay Krieger