31 Days of Reviews: The Diabolical (2015)

When a family experiences paranormal activity in their home, they turn to science for an explanation.

The Diabolical debuted at the SXSW festival in March 2015, before being released internationally, and then receiving a limited US release in October 2015. Directed by Alistair Legrand and starring Ali Larter, The Diabolical attempts to bring the horror and science fiction genres together.

What struck me the most about this particular movie is that it skips the lead up. In most haunted house movies, there’s a period of time where everything is normal, and then the weird things start to happen. The Diabolical completely skips that, and instead, the audience is introduced to the family when they are already in the middle of the haunting. Every character is aware that something is wrong, and they’re already trying to do something about it. It was a nice change from the normal.

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Since The Diabolical skips most of the haunted beginnings, it has a lot more time to look at the dynamics of the family. There’s almost always some family moments in other haunted house movies, whether it be The Conjuring or The Amityville Horror, but The Diabolical can take it a step farther because it has the time for it.

In the case of this movie, the father is gone. He was a very angry man, so his absence is a positive for some characters and a negative for others. The oldest son Jacob has inherited his father’s anger issues, resulting in several fights and the need to see a counselor. The mother (Ali Larter) has a boyfriend, who happens to be her son’s science tutor. The family is also looking into filing for bankruptcy, something that the movie never goes into full detail about, but times are hard.

I mentioned earlier that The Diabolical attempts to blend science fiction with horror. This comes into play when the family attempts to find out more information about the haunting with scientific instruments, which uncovers a secret experiment by a nearby lab. While I do like where they tried going with the experiments in the film, there were times when I felt like they had taken on more than they could handle. I have mixed feelings about it.

The Diabolical uses a mixture of visual and practical effects with the hauntings. While the visual effects aren’t the best, the practical effects are pretty brilliant. There are plenty of moments that can be terrifying. Using practical effects for the movie was a great decision, both for actor reactions and for just a general scare factor.

While on this subject, I will also point out that the opening title sequence for The Diabolical is great. Essentially, it’s an abstract concept, and I love those. The titles are over a variety of different arrangements of either smoke or powder in water (couldn’t tell which.. probably computer generated), and through those, you can see faces, hands, images. I was completely intrigued. It was a nice start to the movie.

The director stated that through the film, he borrowed different techniques from a variety of directors, including David Cronenberg, Steven Spielberg, and John Carpenter. The Carpenter nods were my personal favorite. I love long shots.

Unfortunately, The Diabolical has below average reviews online. I’m not entirely surprised. There are definitely some aspects of the movie that could have been better. There are aspects of the story that aren’t explained as well as they could be. There are questions that are left unanswered that could have been answered. Personally, I enjoyed it. I’ve seen worse.

The Diabolical won me over by immediately jumping into its action. I was enthused from the very start. I would recommend it for its practical effects, and its valid attempt at mixing science fiction and horror. If you’re at home, looking for something with some decent scares on Netflix, The Diabolical might be for you.

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