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The Lowlight Reel: Bedeviled

Five friends are terrorised by a supernatural entity after downloading a mysterious app. Yep, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Hello there, fellow masochists, and welcome to the second instalment of The Lowlight Reel, the one place for spiteful reviews of films that no one wants to watch.

In this article, I will be dissecting the truly appalling 2016 teen-horror Bedeviled, a film so bad that they even misspelled the title (if you’re using the British spelling, which I am, so pipe down).

According to a very optimistic review I stumbled across, Bedeviled could be considered a cross between Her and It, but it shouldn’t be because it’s not, so put that comparison from your mind. Imagine I never even mentioned it. If this film is a cross between anything, it’s the terrible mutated unloved bastard offspring of The Social Network and a piece of underwhelming coursework from a media student who’s recently realised that filmmaking isn’t for him and who plans to run away to sea immediately.

So, now that your hopes have been suitably doused with a cold bucket of reality, on with the show.

Bedeviled begins in true paint-by-numbers form, as many low-budget horror films do, with a young girl, by name of Nikki, inappropriately dressed, sitting alone in a dark room, managing to look both catatonic and concerned at once, for reasons as yet unknown. The sense of doom is somewhat undermined by Nikki’s mother popping in to her daughter’s room to offer her some casserole; this will be par for the course for the remainder of the film—oddly-paced dialogue that goes nowhere, a script that seems to have been written by a disinterested robot that’s only recently been made aware of the existence of humans, and is deeply unimpressed by what it’s learned so far.

Nikki walks a dark corridor

The clothing choices for Nikki (and subsequently the rest of the female cast, who are frequently and unnecessarily poured into shorts tight enough to perform a cervical exam with) really stands out for me here. I don’t know about you, but when I think of someone traumatised into catatonia, I don’t envision them in a miniskirt and a low-cut top; I think pyjamas; I think of someone shrouded in a blanket. Even sitting alone in my own house in a normal mood, the very concept of wearing a miniskirt to just loaf about in is about as alien to me as the idea of strapping myself to a Nissan Micra and firing myself directly into the sun. When I’m alone at home, I may as well be wearing a duvet tied haphazardly with some extension cord, bedecked with an interesting array of crumbs. It’s horrible. I don’t want to talk about it. Stop looking at me like that.

Anyway, back to the film…

Nikki, being terrified and traumatised, naturally decides that the best course of action going forward is to wander around her deserted house in the dark looking like she’s off for a night on the tiles. On her dimly-lit jaunt through the mansion, she stumbles across our supernatural villain, the one and only Mr. Bedevil, who’s been tormenting her for weeks and whose character design incorporates some suitably creepy over-large hands that he likes to wiggle about a lot as if taunting Donald Trump from afar. He’s also very nicely-dressed, but then again, who says that demons or supernatural entities can’t be rounded characters? Yes, they enjoy murder and instilling dread into dim teenagers, but they also like looking fashionable and coordinating their outfits, and why not?

Mr Bedevil with hands poised ready to grab and grinning face

The trouble that emerges almost instantly with Bedeviled is that any attempts to frighten the audience backfire spectacularly. I watched this film with my husband and we spent a large amount of the running time roaring with laughter at moments that were meant to instil fear.

Our first experience of genuine hilarity in Bedeviled was, unfortunately, the moment where we first see Mr. Bedevil, an entity that has an oddly dynamic style of walking that’s impossible to ignore. It’s very neck-orientated, giving the impression that the monster’s a bit weird in a socially awkward way rather than a creepy way. All this pacing just made me think of someone who’s missed their bus and is furious about it, so they’re letting everyone else know about it by walking really angrily, neck-first, of course.

Of course, Nikki dies within the first ten minutes of the film, but her death takes place off-camera, which is a strangely coy decision for a film that’s not remotely shy about lingering shots of barely-legal breasts. This is another theme that will continue throughout Bedeviled for reasons that I don’t understand and gave up trying to fairly quickly.

Now that the underwhelming groundwork for the film has been laid, we’re swiftly introduced to Nikki’s group of friends at her funeral, who don’t seem particularly upset or surprised that their friend has died. The dialogue here, as in many of the other scenes, is meaningless and doesn’t really go anywhere.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” says Cody, Nikki’s boyfriend. You’re not wrong there, Cody.

The only character who shows any genuine emotion at the death of Nikki is her best friend, and lovely protagonist, Alice, who we see crying as she watches videos they had made together prior to her death.

Alice sits at her laptop in a dark room in Bedeviled

In a meet-up apparently immediately after the funeral, the gang quickly put aside the startling unpleasantness of their friend’s sudden death to chat about their plans for the future. The characterisation and dialogue is truly appalling here and no-one comes across well, particularly Cody, who’s supposed to come across as a technological savant but ends up as the kind of person you’d avoid sitting next to in class just in case they might start touching your hair and whispering, “M’lady.”

The gang discuss going off to university, which Cody automatically shits on as a waste of time and a sure-fire way to accumulate massive debt unless you have a rich daddy. Cody, the brains of the outfit, has decided about fifteen years too late that smartphones are the future and plans on developing an app that’ll go viral and make him millions. He announces to the similarly-bereaved that when they’re all working low-level jobs upon graduating, he’ll be sipping Pina Coladas on his private island in Dubai, leaving me to wonder how this lad ended up with any friends in the first place: his girlfriend literally just dropped dead from heart failure and all he can do is harp on about money and apps and farting on the poor.

After this unnecessary outburst, the group reminisce about how they would never have met if it weren’t for Nikki, which judging by this interaction might not have been the tragedy it’s depicted as. For a group of supposed best friends, together they have all the chemistry of a soiled rug that’s been left in the rain to moulder and occasionally get pissed on by the dog.

Nikkis friends sit around a dinner table

“Nikki had a way of seeing the world,” opines Cody. “Smart, insightful… I mean, she could carry a conversation about almost anything.” Which is more than can be said for this humdrum sack of potatoes.

Moving swiftly on, the plot reveals itself as the group all receive an app invite from Nikki’s phone, called Mr. Bedevil (Oho, it’s like the title of the film!). Alice rings Cody, understandably alarmed, asking him if he’s received the invite too. He says he has, but that he didn’t download it because “he likes to stay off the grid”, which is presumably why he’s talking to Alice on an iPhone and wants to go into app development to become a social influencer. My fucking God. Remind me again how he’s supposed to be the cleverest kid in school? I dread to imagine the rest of them if he’s the cream of the crop.

The app itself is a bit of a humdinger. It’s hard to imagine a group of teenagers, even this bunch of dullards, being so stupid as to wholly accept it without so much as a second thought. It is apparently completely sentient, with the unnerving ability to control the power in your house and hold full engaging conversations with you like some gabby old codger at the bus stop. Considering how technologically savvy teenagers are, I feel embarrassed for the scriptwriters for having such a low opinion of this age-group as a whole, and it’s hard to feel invested in a horror film where you don’t want any of the characters to make it past the first fifteen minutes based on stupidity alone, let alone survive the whole debacle to the end.

Apparently they’re all being haunted by a nerd; a demon, yes, but a nerd. It becomes apparent later in the film that demons have found a way to utilise human technology, using phones as a gateway into the human realm.

Ok, this is the stupidest, laziest shit I’ve ever heard. Can you imagine demons going through this in the morning meeting before they kick off a long day’s harassment?

Allow me to set the scene…

“Ok, so humans are less religious now and there are less haunted artefacts, and using witchcraft and curses is on the downturn, so it’s becoming harder to possess them and generally terrify them. So any ideas? Yes, Ian?”

“Phones.”

“Sorry, what?”

“Phones.” Ian, a lesser demon from a circle of Hell that’s not been performing well lately, crosses his arms behind his head and leans back in his chair with an air of unwarranted smugness.

“Right, you can’t just say ‘phones’ and nothing else. Elaborate please, we’re not mind-readers. Well, Zorthak the Defiler is, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“What if we just use their smartphones as a portal? And fuck with them and possess them that way? You know, bugger about with the electrics and things.”

“But they can just throw their phones away. Or get a new phone so you’d have to create a new portal. Or use a house-phone. Or get one of those old phones that you can’t do anything fun with.”

“Snake was fun.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that this is a stupid idea that will never work. Ian, that’s enough out of you, go make yourself useful and bring the coffee in.”

At which point Ian slinks out looking humiliated, vowing to hand in his notice and go back to his old job as a house-goblin that misplaces car keys and socks at inconvenient moments.

Fin

You’ll be glad to know that the scriptwriters found a way around this obvious plot-hole by having the phones magically heal themselves if you try to destroy them, as well as having them reappear the next morning if you try to throw them away. To be honest, this sounds quite useful, if you could find a way to ignore the death-by-fear thing that’s going on.

Unsurprisingly the app’s novelty and helpfulness quickly turns sinister and starts honing in on each person’s individual deepest fear, creating hallucinations ranging from Alice’s rather underwhelming fear of her Grandma, to her pervy friend Dan’s fear of his aunt that drowned in a well (an audaciously shit rip-off of The Ring and The Grudge combined, made vaguely problematic due to the fact that Dan is Asian) to his girlfriend Haley’s bizarre fear of an ugly teddy bear her absent father won for her from what was presumably the worst carnival of all time. It’s hard to feel sorry for any of them, considering that this app was clearly insidious at worst and weirdly invasive at best. You feel like screaming, “WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?!” till your throat packs up its things and leaves.

an evil teddy bear with yellow eye

The app starts picking them off one by one, to the great relief of the viewer. Again, we don’t see any of the deaths on camera; instead, the viewpoint shies away to a rather tedious close-up of a nearest wall, or, at one inadvertently amusing point, to the view of the malevolent teddy bear, which then makes a noise that I can only describe as being akin to the noise your dad made after walking straight into a chest of drawers in the middle of the night after he’d come home blind-drunk from the pub. Needless to say, I laughed my ass off.

Long story short, with the exception of Alice, everyone dies. There, I’ve saved you an hour and a half that you wouldn’t be getting back.

I’ll be honest—this film bored the arse off me, to the point where having to re-watch it to make notes felt like a cruel and unusual punishment. For a horror, it’s anaemic in terms of scares. The director seems to think that startling your audience with random loud sounds is good enough rather than creating scenes that would actually frighten anyone.

are genuine moments of discomfort in Bedeviled that are not related to the plot itself, but rather the complete missteps in characterisation. Cody is black, and there are points in the film that try their best to communicate the hardships that a young, intelligent black man in the USA would face, such as a moment on the bus where an old white woman clutches at her bag when he gets on. In an attempt to diffuse her fear, Cody starts whistling the opening bars of a piece by Chopin, before explaining to the woman that he does this to reassure people that he’s not going to mug them. It’s a rare moment of melancholic insight situated in a film that has all the depth of a car park puddle. His fear, too, is personified as a white police officer, an eye-opening and socially-relevant scene that seems oddly brushed aside after his interaction with the racist white woman. The writers don’t seem to know how they want to characterise Cody; on one hand, he’s supposed to be the cleverest boy in his school, destined for great things. On the other hand, the writers like to jut-in complete changes to his personality when it suits them, changing someone who’s supposed to be cultured to the point where he whistles Chopin as a matter of course, to having him shriek, “Aw, hell nah!” like he’s just fallen out of an underperforming Wayan’s Brothers film.

I was hoping that Cody would survive, largely because he’s the only intelligent character, and something of a deux ex machina, his existence paramount in solving the problem of Mr. Bedevil. However, I knew that this wasn’t going to happen the moment Alice says, “This is a perfect set up for a bad horror movie where no one survives,” and Cody replies, “Oh, it’s not so bad, the black guy’s still alive!” It’s very on-the-nose and meta, but I had hoped that after the film played up to the realistic fears of a young black man, that he’d receive a reprieve and survive. He did not, dying in a lingering moment of pointless cruelty, leaving me to stare at my husband like Tim towards the camera in The Office. So much for breaking stereotypes.

The scene in which Mr. Bedevil is finally defeated (thanks to the cleverness of Cody, the rest of the gang having rendered themselves either useless or dead prior to this), is yet another moment in the film where the scene falls flat. Mr. Bedevil himself resembles nothing more than a poor caricature of Batman’s Joker if he’d been farted out of an early incarnation of Windows Moviemaker. The crescendo of a horror should be so shocking that you’re hiding inside your own coat, not one where you’re laughing so hard that you do a big undignified snort, as I did. Part of me hopes that this is deliberate and tongue-in-cheek, but my gut tells me it isn’t.

Dead female clown with scars saying dead on her chest in Bedeviled

A huge budget isn’t needed to create genuine scares. You don’t need to rely on huge financial input or blow your budget on special effects to create a sense of dread—look at The Blair Witch Project, made on a $60,000 budget, in which you never see so much as a glimpse of the witch, but which scared an entire generation of people so acutely that I imagine camping shops experienced a real financial hit as a result.

It feels like the budget was blown on this last big show of the demon itself and it falls so flat you would’ve thought it had been pushed from a great height to achieve maximum flatness. 

Bedeviled’s final scene opens with Alice away at university, Facetiming her mother, who has finally returned home after being absent for the entire film. Predictably the film ends with Alice’s mother showing her how pleased she is with her new app that magically controls her washing machine. It’s obviously Mr. Bedeviled, back again for more shenanigans, and the film mercifully draws to a close. It leaves the possibility open for a sequel, but that clearly hasn’t happened and we should all thank our lucky stars for it.

Maybe I’ve been too hard on this film. The young actors try their best with a terminally weak script, but the plot is too predictable and the scares too feeble, with many of them being carbon copies of scares that have been done before and better. Any attempts by the scriptwriters to spark commentary on our obsession with phones and technology, in general, are abandoned and left by the wayside, never spoken of again. You’d think that by the end of the film, Alice would never touch her iPhone again, preferring instead to live out her remaining years in a shack in the woods without running water or electricity, but apparently not. The awkward and unnecessary sexuality shoehorned in to appeal to horny teenagers feels forced and predatory and the social commentary on racism is rendered meaningless by killing off the film’s only black character when Cody could have easily survived.

So that was Bedeviled, which I spent an hour and a half of my life watching, twice, so you don’t have to.


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