DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN (2017)
Directed by Courtney Fathom Sell
Review by Nick Cato
On Saturday, January 28, 2017, I attended (what I believe was) the official NYC midnight premiere of the first full-length feature from director Courtney Fathom Sell, who has directed many documentaries, music videos, TV commercials, and a few short genre films since 2006. DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN, while set in the present day, is a bit of a throwback to the 70s/80s “small town Satanist” subgenre, although aside from the basic shell, the story doesn’t quite resemble anything in particular, and maybe only slightly hints at ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968).
While shot on Hi8, the movie itself looks quite impressive considering the budget was between $20-$30,000. Some of the Maryland landscapes look quite bleak and give the film an eeriness that’s never felt within the story itself. The soundtrack (also provided by Sell), however, is excellent.
After suffering a miscarriage, NYC couple John (a very stiff Marc Slanger) and his wife Samantha (Jordan Lewis, who is the best actor of the lot) are offered a chance to move to Maryland and get away from it all. John’s boss at the construction company where he works does have an agenda, and asks John to oversee the development of a new casino, but warns him the people of the small town they’ll be living in won’t be too happy about it. Of course, it doesn’t take long for our couple to find their new neighbors anything but friendly, save for some homeless hippie type who taps on their window when they arrive in town, but shortly after is found murdered in their basement.
There are plenty of films and novels that follow the “City Folk Move to Small Town” pattern, and many have a genuinely sinister feel. The townsfolk in DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN don’t come off as sinister, just plain weird (one is played by Conrad Brooks, whose claim to fame was a small role as a cop in Ed Wood’s 1959 crapsterpiece PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE). While the film wants to give us a creepy feel (which is almost achieved when Samantha freaks out after spotting hooded cultists through her kitchen window), most of DEVIL is a slow build leading to an anti-climatic ending that will only surprise those who have never seen a horror film before. And even then, most likely not.
Instead of focusing on the native townsfolk and whatever brand of evil they’re involved with, DEVIL spends too much time with local political turmoil, and then drops the bomb that John has some form of PTSD (just why is never clearly explained). Much time is spent on Samantha, who, after having her journal stolen during a home robbery, seems more upset over that than the fact she had seen hooded cultists peeking in her window, not to mention a pentagram spray painted on her basement wall.
Now I’ll admit this: I saw DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN at the witching hour in a small theater in Brooklyn (The Spectacle Theater, which holds only 35 seats and has a bathroom behind the screen). The film’s slow pace made it hard for me to focus. I do remember Samantha is eventually kidnapped by the Satanic townsfolk and tied to an altar, but for the life of me I can’t remember why. I don’t remember if she was pregnant again (neither do the two people I saw this with) or just the target of crazed devil worshippers. And when the reveal comes soon after this at the finale, it’s all very quiet and nothing like I had been anticipating.
This is a hard one to review because the film itself looks great, is well shot, has an effective score and a fine lead actress. Sell has some serious chops as a director, and I’ll be watching him closely. Yet despite being a fan of weird cinema, the story here is all over the place, and I can’t recall the point, even when my friends and I stood outside the theater afterward talking about it.
Occult cinema is a passion of mine, and I’ll see anything remotely resembling it. DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN is a strange independent feature that I’m looking forward to revisiting when it hits Blu-ray. The film’s synopsis had me expecting something like ROSEMARY’S BABY or ENTER THE DEVIL (1972), but instead played out like a bizarre study of grief and renewal, rather than the satanic shocker I had anticipated.
I’m thinking if this had a different title with no hint of the devil element, it would have been more of a surprise when the cult is eventually revealed. As it stands, DON’T LET THE DEVIL IN is for occult-film completists only, but it does display the skills of an upcoming director who will surely shine with a more coherent script.
I give it one and a half knives.
© Copyright 2017 by Nick Cato
Nick Cato gives DONT LET THE DEVIL IN ~one and a half knives.