The Devil’s Business
A genuinely unsettling horror film, The Devil's Business is a great addition to the genre.
A threatening little indie horror, The Devil’s Business is finally set for a UK release this Friday after a successful outing at FrightFest last year.
Coming from writer/director Sean Hogan, the film is a claustrophobic hit man story, with two hired killers, Pinner (Billy Clarke) and Cully (Jack Gordon), dispatched to the home of an associate of their boss, Bruno (Harry Miller). Their target, Kist (Jonathan Hansler), is out for the evening, and so the pair settle in to wait for their quarry, while the experienced Pinner spins an eerie tale for his apprentice. Discovering that all is not as it seems in the house, the evening begins to take a very sinister turn.
The film is remarkable for what it achieves on such limited resources. With just one setting, four actors and shot in ten days, the result is a deliberate, stagey tone, with an atmosphere thick enough to keep the audience’s fingernails short. The slow, steady pace of the first half, scored by an ominously ticking clock, with the characters shrouded in darkness, generates a genuine feeling of dread as the characters pass the time until their grisly task is at hand.
Events take a wild turn after about the halfway mark, with the tone shifting to a slightly more straightforward horror film style. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the story has to go somewhere - and after 45 minutes that feel every bit as oppressive as the stage version of The Woman in Black, it comes almost as a relief. It remains an unsettling experience though, with the apparent normalcy of the suburban setting giving this film a real creeping sense of unease.
With such a low-key setting, a lot relies on the cast to get the tone correct. The results are mixed, with Clarke a world-weary, wonderfully impatient presence throughout. Gordon is a lively, jittery presence, given a tricky character to get right. He shows his ability though, with a superbly played sequence about halfway through, portraying the terrified young killer so naturalistically that it is difficult not to be won over. Hansler threatens to run away with every scene he features in as Kist, enjoying a sinister yet urbane presence that works perfectly in the wider context of the film.
At only 69 minutes, this is a lean little story, which has such a sparse set up that it can even afford to drag its feet slightly on occasion. With such a heavy, sustained atmosphere and a truly intriguing story, The Devil’s Business achieves much more than it perhaps should, marking this out as a commendable achievement for Hogan and his cast and crew.
The Devil’s Business is one of the most purely unsettling horror films of the year, and will almost certainly stay with you long after the lights come up and you leave the cinema. It may not be the flashiest or most spectacular film in the genre, but with this kind of tension wrung out of it, is certainly effective, and can perhaps be considered perhaps the best horror of 2012 so far.