Sean Hogan’s horror film, The Devil’s Business, gets plenty of mileage from building atmosphere and a palpable sense of dread. By pure coincidence, the plot resembles (so of) Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, with a focus on two hitmen (one of them is Irish too) sent out on a ‘routine’ job and find themselves up to their necks in otherworldly weirdness.
It has been described as ‘Pinter-esque’ but such a comparison feels a bit generous. The dialogue is actually a weak point as it strives for existential depth and comes off as incredibly corny. That isn’t Pinter-esque. Neither are the characters nor their interactions particularly engrossing. One is a haunted, middle-aged guy and the other an inexperienced kid. They sit around for ages (this is a very talky picture) and share an uneasy, master-pupil relationship. An average suburban semi-detached house on the street the guys are sent to appears normal enough but the garage, like a serial killer’s layer, is littered with unspeakable things.
If the script isn’t up to scratch then Nicola Marsh’s photography is excellent. And that’s not the usual critical cop out. ‘Oh at least it looks nice’. The HD roughness works very well within the shadowy interiors and on the actors’ eyes, so they look almost pitch black and soulless, like the eyes of a shark. This is clever stuff.
Hogan’s film may have severe restrictions regarding budget and location, but smartly conjures claustrophobia and creeping fear. The Devil’s Business goes for a ‘quietly eerie’ tone before fudging it with some third act blood and guts. The script aches for profundity in its statement on the nature of evil and why some men would kill others for money, but all we get, in the end, is a sense that Hogan and his DP have managed to hide the movie’s cheapness with some inventive photography. Whilst this is clearly a merit, in that all good horror flicks need oodles of atmosphere, this isn’t the same as what Ti West achieved in The House of the Devil. Quiet and stillness in a medium focused on movement is an interesting approach, but in the end The Devil’s Business might have worked better a stage play.
UK Release Date: 17th August