If you were to pull your mobile phone out, you’d probably have at least a dozen apps downloaded, each with their own advantages and quirks. One might give you directions for a potential road trip, while another may simply allow you to pass the time by throwing a bird through precariously balanced obstacles for points. Easy and for the most part free, they occupy a great deal of our time; a lot of time. So much to the point where we believe them to be an antagonist within our daily lives, continually pulling us back in where we continue to exist within this social and accessible microcosm.
But what if these rapidly evolving, technological advancements were evil? And I don’t mean in an intelligently constructed metaphor kind of way, but pure evil. What if the access and time we allowed tapped into more than just entertainment and our favourite eateries, instead exploiting our deepest and darkest fears?
It’s the central conceit to a bevy of 21st Century horror, from The Ring‘s fascination with television, Stay Alive‘s obsession with video game culture all the way to Unfriended, which uses the very interface we’ve become attached to in order to off its cast of tech-savvy teens. The latest addition to the tech-horror sub-genre to expose the dangers that lay waiting behind our screens reminds us that sometimes, it’s necessary to put your phone away and enjoy the present.
Unless of course you’re presently watching Bedeviled, the latest horror film from the Vang Brothers (Abel and Burlee) that frequently hits the snooze button on what makes the latest crop of horror so socially terrifying, playing off the genres worst fears of being unrelieved.
After Alice (Saxon Sharbino, working off the Tara Reid School of Acting) loses her best friend (Alexis G. Zall) to an exposure of fear (luckily for us, the characters are taking a course on it), she and her group of friends – all with their mobile phones attached at the hip – are invited to download a mysterious app. Presenting itself as a voice activated “companion” (think Alexa if it were Jared Leto from Suicide Squad) that assists in anything from turning the lights off to calling your boyfriend, the app begins tapping into each friends fear, which range from clowns to deceased grandma’s. Soon, they must figure a way to uninstall it before it scares everyone to death.
If you need an idea about the intelligence of Bedeviled, look no further than its cast of hastily drawn teens, all who feel as natural as a shark invested tornado. They fill the quota of diverse and attractive Degrassi High youths you’d catch snagging free samples at the mall food court, and they frequently test the limit of conversation. When they aren’t starring at their phones like an old glazed donut that’s just been told it can never be a bagel, they’re stringently discussing their academic future, or knocking baristas as lowly, debt warring labourers.
In one scene, Cody (Mitchell Edwards) tells them all to put their phones in the middle of the table after they’re all caught in the scroll and click of them, a moment that is undeniably relatable. It forces them to confront actual conversation, which feels as painful as confronting the truth about the immense sway our phones have over our lives. These are friends who strain to engage with each other, and feel like they hardly know each other, opting instead to discuss their nightly plans with an app.
That’s because the Vang Brothers (who wrote, produced and directed) don’t have much faith in today’s teens to hold a conversation, as they’ve written them spending most of Bedeviled‘s run time interacting with a bow-tied silhouette with a malevolent grin. It’s what propels the film’s horror, which frequently feels as distracted and unenthusiastic as the characters it’s trying to scare.
Each teen has their own set of fears, ranging from Gavin’s (Carson Boatman) apprehension of clowns to Dan’s (Brandon Soo Hoo) childhood fear; one that depicts a pregnant, water-logged corpse that is the film’s standout scare. Unfortunately, most of the scares in Bedeviled are as obvious as coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), hiding in darkened corners or down hallways in what amounts to a luxurious exploit of the genres most cliched elements.
Most of the set-pieces are caked in blue lighting that look to give your everyday suburban home a spooky yet charmless feel reminiscent of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, though hardly any of it’s effective. Light pours in through windows, even well after it’s dusk, distracting from the potential thrills that lurk in the background. And after a while, the horror and set pieces begin to look and feel the same, graduating into a blur of cheap afterthought.
Maybe because the story is more interested in creating an allegory for our socially inhibited youth than one that’s actually filled with genuine emotion and fear, despite its focus on abusing it. Or perhaps the Vang Brothers are more invested in manipulating the horror genre for their own gain, one that when wielded intelligently, can produce some of the most topical and culturally relevant films cinema has to offer. Because despite the latest surge in brilliantly crafted genre pieces that help shape and mould our culture’s own perception of the world’s ever-present horror, there will always be those that bedevil the genre; which is ironically what Bedeviled does well.
Bedeviled is unleashed on VOD from Monday, 17th September. Check out the trailer below and let us know in the comments below if you agree completely or if you think we were too harsh: