The Devil's Curse (2008)

JULY 16, 2010


I may have had trouble coming up with a definitive answer for the film’s ending, but of this I am certain: The Devil’s Curse (aka Credo) is the QUIETEST horror movie of all time (and yes, that includes silent films, because those have symphonic music playing over the entire thing). Even some of the big reveals aren’t given the standard DUHHHH music sting, and many scenes go by with minimal dialogue. I could probably follow a film in a foreign language easier than this English speaking movie if I wasn’t giving it my full attention.

And I admit at times I wasn’t, which of course meant I had to go back and re-watch a chunk of the film. The problem is the movie started off like too many other horror movies, with a group of students (each with their own easily identifiable trait) moving into an abandoned house and starting to witness odd things. And none of the characters were particularly engaging (especially the two males - one was a frat douche who causes them to get kicked out of their apartment in the first place, and instantly wants to “PARTY!!! WOOO!!” again when they find their new digs; the other is an introvert who videotapes the girls from hidden cameras), so I felt I was safe to check email and such while it was on. “I’ve seen this stuff enough,” I thought to myself.

But then the 3rd act came, and I felt a little lost. Because even though it starts off like a generic supernatural/slasher hybrid (I got a really strong Séance vibe, for example), it’s actually more of a psychological film, with a good chunk of the film seemingly happening only in the mind of its heroine. At least, that’s how I interpreted the ending - there is evidence to suggest I’m wrong as well. If the director did not intend ambiguity, she failed to get his point across, but if she wanted the audience to decide for themselves, then I think she did a pretty good job giving enough evidence to support either theory.

See, each of the deaths we see are ironic - the claustrophobic dying in a tunnel, etc. It’s just shy of being totally believable, but we’re dealing with a horror movie here (a possibly supernatural one at that), so it’s fine. But then the twist comes and you realize that a. most of it didn’t happen and b. there are two explanations for what DID happen. See, our heroine (the very lovely MyAnna Buring) is a psychology major who is devoting all of her time to her studies. And at the end it seems that this has taken too far of a toll on her mind, and she kills herself. OR, the demon that they talk about as an urban legend of sorts really was playing tricks on her. Either theory works.

The bulk of what I had missed was the backstory involving five previous students who had attempted to raise the demon and all ended up dead from apparent suicides (except for one, who continued to roam in the building). And upon watching it again, I realize that it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t paying attention as it was that they hadn’t fleshed out this story enough. I think they could have laid flashbacks to their story throughout the film, giving us a little more information each time, rather than all at once in a sort of montage that leaves certain things muddled (especially in the context of the ending - we know MyAnna’s character may have been just crazy, but what about them?). This also could have helped get Colin Salmon into the movie more. I like this actor, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen him in anything, but his role is confined to a single brief scene (possibly a single shot), which is a shame. At least they don’t put his name on the DVD cover.

(Note - apparently his role was much bigger, and the story of the other students had a lengthy prologue that was ultimately cut for pacing and then reworked as a flashback. Two of my problems caused with one nervous editing decision!)

The religious angle isn’t pushed enough, either. They show scrawled (written in blood?) passages from the "Nicene Creed" from time to time, but I’m not sure if it ever truly pays off. Perhaps if MyAnna’s guilty feelings about her father’s suicide (or her own) were tied into religion a bit more, it would be a stronger plot thread. Still, I like that they went with something a little more obscure than the usual “Our Father”, but didn’t just tie the religious parts into some random passage from Revelations or whatever. "Nicene Creed" is a nice middle ground. It’s also one of the highlights of a Catholic mass, because once you start to recite that, you know the mass is more than half over and that it won’t be long until you can go home and play Nintendo.

Hi, I went to mass every Sunday (actually usually Saturday) of my life until I was 18.

On the plus side, it’s well shot (with HD cameras), and back to the sound design - it’s very laudable in this day and age to have a sound design that’s not concerned with trying to jolt teenaged girls every 5 minutes. And I love that characters weren’t always talking to themselves when they were alone, which is another staple of modern horror (Saw V being one particularly brutal offender - Scott Patterson has the most dialogue in the movie but pretty much plays every scene alone). And while the kids may not have been very memorable, the actors playing them were quite good; even the annoying jock (who is NAMED Jock, for some goddamn reason) was believable. It always baffles me when you get a horror movie with one-dimensional characters and the actors aren’t even capable of pulling that much off, but if anything the actors here seem to be responsible for bringing what little personality the characters have to the table.

It’s always a bummer to see a film with some good ideas not completely come together. With a few more drafts to work on a more involving first act, better character development for our heroes, and a more fleshed out backstory (and its religious ties), this could have been a knockout. Instead it’s just pretty good; a film that improves as it goes but never fully recovers from its generic start. Hopefully director Toni Harman and writer Alex Wakeford learn from their mistakes and deliver on their next effort - there’s definitely some promise there.

What say you?

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