Let us jump right into The Diabolical, because that is what writer/director Alistair Legrand and writing partner Luke Harvis do. Right off the hop we meet Ali Later as Madison, a single mom who is trying to hold on to their family home while dealing with a son prone to emotional and physical outbursts as a way of dealing with the departure of his father. Making matters worse, the house appears to be haunted. There is no pretense. No build up. We are joining this fractured family mid-fight.
Legrand wastes no time getting down to business in his debut feature film. Here is the family. Here is their home. Here are the ghosts that are haunting it. There go the paranormal experts out the door, scared out of their wits. Boom. What is left for Madison to do but trust her boyfriend Nikolai, who is a physicist and offers to use his big science brain to find out more about these spirits invading her home.
This is where Legrand pulls the rug out from the haunted house genre and takes The Diabolical into science fiction territory (see *SPOILER* below). To Legrand and Harvis' credit this explanation for these visitations has not (to my recollection) been done before. There has not been a merging of two genres like this to explain how the house came to be haunted. It will challenge how Madison feels for Nikolai and her love for her son, Jacob.
Legrand's film does well to cover the essentials of haunted house films. Objects float in the air or are thrown across rooms. The game changes when the children are physically harmed when they make contact with the apparitions or conveniently when they try to leave the house. It serves as motivation for Madison to get rids of these ghosts in a hurry. I bet those apparitions are thanking their lucky stars that the kids are on Summer holidays and not missing days at school lest school board officials be poking around. Too many chefs, am I right? Not unfortunate but the efforts to strike fear into the audience are valiant though not entirely effective for this reviewer.
The creature and makeup effects by Jason Collins and his team at Autonomous F/X, Inc. are well done and a highlight of the film. Any time a creature lacking any of its limbs and extremities, and appears to be turned inside out, comes barreling out of your clothes dryer is, I believe, a cause for concern. Nothing will wash that out.
My only real concern, other than the resignation that I was not going to be scared by this film, was the lack of conviction in Madison's children. The kids appear so well adjusted to these visitations - complacent even - and that is what stays with me after watching this. While Madison and Nikolai bounce around the house chasing down these 'ghosts' Jacob consoles his little sister, Haley, with a few comforting words. I simply do not believe that the children are as scared of their situation as their mom is. This is not malicious intent. I do not get off on seeing children get broken. They were simply the less convincing characters in the film.
Legrand's message in his film is that parents should do whatever it takes for the well-being and safety of their child(ren). Madison must make a choice at the end of The Diabolical, and see how far she must go to guarantee the safety of her children. (*SPOILER*) With tinges of the ending of Rian Johnson's Looper in The Diabolical there is more than just the safety of her children that Madison's sacrifice may guarantee.
The Diabolical opened in the U.S. last Friday and plays tonight as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
*SPOILER* the tagline on the poster gives away Legrand's twist.
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