Wednesday, April 13, 2016

THE DIABOLICAL (2015) [Paul's Review]

. . . So that’s what's been eating all the socks! . . .

After I watched The Diabolical a week ago, I said to myself: “ugh, that was awful.  Someone befouled the proverbial bed here.”  But I also said, “at least I’ll never have to watch it again.”  Because I look at the Bright Side of Life!    And my psyche dumped the proverbial bed into the garbage, primly brushed off its hands, said “that’s that” and went off down a sunny path whistling and smelling the flowers.

Yet when I sat down to write the review yesterday I realized with mounting horror that I had forgotten everything about the film.  I was abject.  I would have to watch it again.  So I did, just now.  And in the next couple hours I’m going to bang this review out, because I’m not watching it a third time. But Bright Side! I’m now one of the only people on the earth, outside of the few people paid to do so, that has watched The Diabolical twice!  *accepts trophy graciously*

Ok.  Let’s get this done and get out of here shall we?

The Diabolical is about a single mother Madison, played by Ali Larter, being terrorized by monsters that appear and disappear suddenly inside a large and well-appointed suburban house that she can't afford.  The film can be broken down into roughly three narrative segments:  denial, idiocy, and batshit.  There will be spoilers ahead, but I think, given the circumstances, that you should regard them as so many favors.  You're welcome!


The film opens with Madison in denial.  She is considering bankruptcy and is behind on the mortgage on a behemoth craftsman with pristine hardwood floors, trim and wainscoting.  When her son expresses concern, even offering to sell his comic books to help, she says: “Trust me.  I’m working on it.”  

Yet she isn’t working on it.  She isn’t even working.  Instead she goes to parent-teacher conferences and flirts with her son’s elementary school science teacher.  This is “working on it.”  The only legitimate inference is that she thinks that if she seduces the elementary teacher, then he could pay for her mortgage, which is DENIAL.  A wife, two kids and hardwood wainscoting is . . . *punches stuff into a calculator* . . . more than that guy makes.

Moreover, Madison and her children frequently see horrifyingly gruesome monsters—think deformed, bleeding, menacing humanoids—that appear for no reason in their house.   When we first see Madison confront one of these monsters, she closes her eyes and says, “you’re not real” which is denial, but writ small.  

But then, we discover that not only has she been seeing these monsters, but her children have as well.  And she knows about it!  I’m not sure what the criteria for “real” for Madison is, but I’m thinking that if I see monsters in the house and everyone in my house also sees those same monsters, then maybe your belief that the monsters are in your head is actually DENIAL, writ large in pulsing neon letters.  When the son helpfully points out that they should move, Madison says, “I’m working on it,” and promptly walks in the front door. 


The second act begins when a well-dressed stranger shows up offering to buy out Madison’s mortgage.  He says that he is offering a substantially higher number than market value.  But Madison hesitates, which is IDIOCY.  You have an offer on your legitimately haunted house that is bankrupting you.   You drive that guy down to wherever you have to go and have the contract written, signed, and filed with the city before sundown.  Madison should be hounding him.  Yet, mysteriously, he has to hound her for the rest of the movie to sell the terrifying monster house she can’t afford. 

While she’s mulling over this oh-so-agonizing decision, the monster shows up again and touches the children, who from that point on cannot leave the house without black junk growing all over their faces and hands, because whatever.  Confined to the house because of this never-to-be-explained curse, Madison now can’t sell the house because the kids will die if taken outside.  See how that works?

Meanwhile, Madison is now sleeping with the elementary school teacher (score!), but when he asks what’s going on, she merely says, “there’s a situation in my life” which is really euphemizing it up big time.  When he hears there’s a “situation,” the science teacher says “ok” and leaves without asking what it is.  It’s conversational IDIOCY.

A deformed monster crawls out of a dryer . . . mysterious.  More mysterious is the fact that the laundry is gone. So that’s what's been eating all the socks!

To be admittedly petty, I’m going to point out a silly error that really bothered me.  The child protective services woman who is threatening to take away the son because he keeps getting in fights tells Madison that “he needs to show some restraints.”  Now this can’t be right.  Surely she meant to say, “he needs to show some restraint.”  Otherwise it sounds like she’s advocating putting him in restraints, which is a creepy thing for a DCFS liaison to say. 

ACT 3:  BATSHIT [major spoiler ahead]

In the final act nothing makes sense.  The elementary school teacher turns out to be a quantum physicist who has solved the problem of teleportation.  The monsters are actually time-traveling criminals-turned-human guinea pigs from the future.  There’s a wall of research and google maps tells them that the evil corporation is beaming the bad guys into their house for no apparent reason.   They build a trapdoor into the back porch (sweat equity, I suppose).  And the school teacher tries to outsmart the monster-criminal with this killer ninja ambush move:

Madison finally recognizes that the monster is actually her son from the future.  The son recognizes his mother, but only because he sees a paper maché volcano.  He stabs her in the kidney anyway.  The mother goes to the future and we are treated to an honest-to-God trippy “hyperspace” light show.  In the future the mother has a flashback to a memory that she doesn’t have in order to set up the conclusion in which she beams back into the house in a silly futuristic spacesuit costume and light sparkles.  Honestly.  BATSHIT.

But because I look at the Bright Side of Life, I should say that the monsters are appropriately gross and the acting isn't horrible.  Also, I never have to watch this again!

Questions for Joe:
1.  If you haven't, and you probably haven't, watched the film twice you might miss the easter egg when early in the film the science teacher says he prefers to focus "on the present," which is a time travel joke that no one will ever get since no one will watch the film twice.  Does this make you want to watch it again?

JD: Shoot, I haven't even watched it once yet. You're....way ahead of me! Get it? Like, in the future?

2.  Time travel narratives can have plot holes.  Did you notice any in this film?

JD: Nope! But again, I haven't seen it yet. I'm like you, from the past, before you watched this shit twice. By the way, how are things in the future?

3.  There’s a lot in this movie about the absent dad, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Could you?

JD:  Okay, just watched some. Now I'm to the point where they build a tiger trap in their back porch after doing a bunch of science. I think the Dad subplot is a misdirection so that you think the monster guy is the dad, and then they hit you with "No, it's his SON! DUH DUH DUHHHH!" 

4.  Can you think of a more convoluted way to get a monster into a closet than this?

JD:  Hey, if a monster is terrorizing a suburban American family, then there should be a convoluted explanation. Nothing annoys me more than "This all powerful demon has nothing better to do than mess with the Johnson family", like you see in Paranormal Activity, or countless other films. So I appreciate the belabored explanation. It should be incredibly unlikely for monsters to be afflicting just one American home.

5.  How good is the wall of research in this movie?  Does it compare to Pay the Ghost?

JD:  It's pretty excellent. I love the fact that he's writing on their wall with a pencil. When that guy moves into his girlfriend's house, he moves in hard! And he's sitting there writing complicated equations while listening to an audio file of something going "BUMP BUMP BUMP" and after writing some more math, he's like "AHA, it's a repetitive sound!"

The best part, though, was when they set up sensors to test for the presence of a monster they SAW in the previous scene. As a geek, and also a dork, I can appreciate going down the rabbit hole of "I wonder if we'll detect any anomalies in the radiation levels of the house when the booger monster comes? Such readings would confirm that a booger monster is present!"

And that's basically where I'm at in the film. I now have to watch the rest of it, but at least I know not to forget what I saw, lest I be forced to watch it a second time. So, thank you, future Paul!


  1. Oh man, stumbled upon this blog randomly when looking up THE VEIL and the reviews are outrageously funny, keep 'em coming guys.

    fellow film reviewer / hopeless fan of crappy horror.

  2. Thanks! Encouragement means a lot during this marathon of (mostly) terrible movies!

    Went to your site, but it's in a language I can't read. Still, it looks slick and there's a bunch of X-Files stuff so I know that it's awesome.

    Hope you enjoyed "The Veil" or at least our review of it!