Evil comes in many forms and in Josh Lobo’s directorial debut, I TRAPPED THE DEVIL, we see it in the form of family dysfunction, long kept secrets, and a mysterious man locked in the basement.
For the release of this psychological thriller, I had the chance to speak with Josh about his film where we discussed the topic of evil, family dynamics, and building tension.
Hi Josh, thank you so much for speaking with me today. To start thing off, can you tell us a little bit about I TRAPPED THE DEVIL?
Josh Lobo: I TRAPPED THE DEVIL is about a man and his wife who go and visit his brother on Christmas. When they arrive, he sees that his family’s home is sort of in disarray and learns that his brother has kidnapped a man in the basement and believes that the person trapped is the devil himself.
What inspired the story?
Josh Lobo: I loved Roman Polanski’s paranoid Satanic thrillers and I wanted to make something that was kind of about good and evil. I don’t necessarily believe that this film is itself a full-on Satanic thriller. I think it’s more of a contemplation on good and bad and evil and what that means along with family and miscommunication. I wanted to make something that was a blended concoction of all the things that I really love. I always felt that the film felt like a Stephen King novel with bits of Poltergeist. I really wanted to make an interesting family dynamic and I wanted to make it visually arresting. I love Mario Bava which was a huge inspiration for me.
Was there a specific reason in setting it during the Christmas holiday?
Josh Lobo: I think Christmas is such a good time – that and Thanksgiving are the most symbolically family-esque holidays. It was a great excuse to bring the entire family together and was a great motivation for that. If they just showed up, it would have been convenient that today they showed up. It’s the holidays, you reach out to your family and you want to go be with them even if you are kind of in some strife.
I’m a huge fan of religious horror in any capacity. Prior to filming, did you do any research into the belief of the Devil and what evil means?
Josh Lobo: I almost wanted to do the exact opposite (laughs). I think universally, people believe, whether you’re religious or not, in good or bad and evil in some capacity. I really wanted to stray away from any sort of religious connotation. I know the cross is very symbolic in the Catholic Church but I only used that in a way because it’s a very universal symbol for “good” and it’s a very striking image. I don’t feel like the characters are having conversations about religion and what religion means, they’re having conversations about what is good and what is bad and the ways to sort of nick the evil in the world. If there’s one thing I could go back and change about the film, I think I would make it so Steve believes he’s trapped evil itself, not so much the Devil. I do think the Devil has a connotation as this sort of moustache-twisting villain and that’s not so much what I wanted. I just wanted him to believe that he had kind of trapped evil personified. The film could have been called I TRAPPED THE EVIL and I think nothing would have had to change.
I really liked the family dynamics and though there isn’t a ton of dialogue, I was able to understand what everyone was trying to convey which helped in building the tension. Can you elaborate on that?
Josh Lobo: With a limited budget there’s very little you can do as far as James Wan-esque set-ups/payoffs/jumpscares. I didn’t have the tools or the steady cams or the sets to do that. I feel a lot of indie films falter when they try to do too much – too much violence, too many jumpscares – because you don’t have the time or monetary backing to do that. What I did have was my ensemble cast which was fucking incredible. Having professional actors is incredible because you can sort of get these nuances across. I hate unnecessary dialogue and this movie to me is actually a little too “talky”, I like visually representing things. I always imagined this film to be somewhat of a puzzle box, there is a mystery in Steve’s history that goes unspoken, but the element to decipher the mystery is there, they are in the movie. If you really decided to piece together what you’ve seen or what you think, the entire history of that family and why they are at odds and why Steve is the way he is, it’s all in there, you just have to think about it. Even if people aren’t thinking about this for three weeks after they have watched it, I wanted people to leave with the feeling like they’ve only not understood but have only taken in about 75% of the movie. There’s just some stuff to digest and think about – where do these characters come from and what is the reason for this character’s psychosis? There’s a lot of stuff in there.
The film as a whole allows for so much dissection. You have the family aspect but it also touches upon mental illness and how people could perceive someone they deem “crazy”. Switching gears, you’ve touched on this a little bit, but I was wondering if you could talk more about the colors and lighting used in the film.
Josh Lobo: When we set out to make this we wanted to make something that was visually bold and interesting. It’s hard because when you have an entire story set in one house that could more or less be a stage play, you’re basically just moving your characters, which are kind of like your chess pieces, around the house. We weren’t relying on jump scares and we weren’t relying on blood and gore, it was all character work and it was all building tension. We needed to find a way to give each element of this home where these things take place, kind of a visual distinction. I think each room of the house has a very different look and the characters are constantly moving around. You have the attic, which is more antiquated and dusty and the air is very thick, and you have the basement, which is this kind of scarlet red, which in the story is a photo development area. The red is also a very bold signifier for evil. It was such a triumph on both my production designer Carla and my cinematographer Bryce Holden. We gave each room a very different color, a very different style, and as these characters moved around this house, they were constantly engaged and interested because what you’re seeing is very different. Something I really want to get across is that this is a horror movie but it’s much more of almost a paranoid thriller. I think the film operates in the middle ground between being a full-on genre film but it could also appease the art-house crowd. It’s a little bit slower and a little bit character orientated.
Lastly, do you have any other projects on the horizon that you can talk about or that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
Josh Lobo: The next thing we’re kind of in development on is a Franz Kafka-esque horror/adventure movie, which is interesting, to say the least. It’s kind of a sister/brother piece to this but it’s much more interesting. I think this film will be divisive in that the people who love slow-burn films about characters will like this but people who will want a James Wan movie are absolutely going to despise it. I think the next one will have a little more of the meat and potatoes of a genre movie.
I TRAPPED THE DEVIL is now available on VOD and in select theaters.