[Atlanta Film Festival] Along Came the Devil (2018) - Reviewed

Debuting this weekend at the Atlanta Film Festival, Jason DeVan's skin crawling addition to the possession genre is an unexpected delight. Along Came the Devil (formerly known as Tell Me Your Name) eschews supernatural conventions in favor of exploring the impact of abuse and the innate hubris of heroism.  Featuring crisp, haunting visuals, a vicious lead performance, and an absolutely stellar final act, this is one of the year's best horror films thus far.

Ashley is a teenager who was abused by her father after her mother mysteriously disappeared and as a result is eventually sent to reside with her aunt.  Desperate for answers, Ashley participates in a seance and unwittingly invites something dark into her soul.  Jason and wife Heather DeVan's script takes an intimate approach to the overdone cosmos of demonic possession.  Where Friedkin's masterpiece focused on the torment of the crusaders, the DeVan's vision focuses both on the degradation of a good-natured soul and the self-centered dangers of trying to do the right thing.  This is a film that is about cycles and how patterns of abusive behaviors can slowly worm their way into the subconscious, creating a disquieting center that rests underneath a veneer of Rockwellian deception.  The buildup takes the bulk of the narrative, winding threads of mystery, occultism, and domestic distress around the story's esoteric heart until it bursts with a cascade of body horror and viscera. 

Sydney Sweeney's complex performance is both elegant and terrifying.  Her body language is quintessential to the story and the amount of physicality required in some of the scenes highlights her dedication to her craft.  Her ability to communicate which entity is in charge merely through a vacant stare is unforgettably chilling.  Sweeney is supported by Madison Lintz, Bruce Davison, Matt Dallas, and Jessica Barth.  Barth in particular does an excellent job with her material and her chemistry with Sweeney has a perfectly awkward vibe that is so natural, one could forget they're not related at times.  Some of the dialogue is hit or miss, especially during scenes of drunken exposition delivered by Davison's fallen clergyman, however as the proceedings spin deliciously out of control, it becomes clear that the rules are a lie and Davison's broken submission is absolutely amazing.  This is the core of Along Came the Devil.  Power and all of its dynamics, within the family, within heaven and hell, and most importantly within the self is what DeVan is exploring and the film's absolute refusal to explain itself will either endear or repulse.  

Justin Duval's radiant cinematography is unusual for this kind of picture and it works.  Reflections and corner of the eye compositions are the centerpiece.  If there is a weakness, it is a reliance on jump scares and musical cues, but these are dappled throughout an otherwise unnerving experience.  George Troester's makeup special effects are remarkable, physically narrating Ashley's spiritual corruption with foul humors and broken appendages.  The result is a disturbing experience whose stellar attributes vastly outweigh its expected flaws.  

Coming soon, Along Came the Devil is a sinister foray into the exorcism genre.  Presenting a simple premise, filled with conventional tropes, DeVan's breakneck departure subverts these expectations to deliver an unexpected surprise.  Fans of demonic possession films will find much to adore as will anyone looking to a spend a Friday night in the darkness.  

-- Kyle Jonathan