Villain Media has an exclusive interview with writer/director Josh Lobo, who discusses his creepy and scary thrill ride, I Trapped The Devil, starring Scott Poythress, AJ Bowen, and Susan Burke. With a remarkable directorial debut hitting theaters, the first-time filmmaker opens up about making his psychologically riveting and claustrophobic thriller from IFC Midnight.
Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace and joyful family reunions. But when Matt (AJ Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) show up unannounced at the home of his estranged brother Steve (Scott Poythress) to celebrate the holidays, they are instead greeted with a horrifying surprise: trapped in the basement is a man. But not just any man. Steve believes that his hostage is none other than the devil himself. As shock and skepticism turn to fear and paranoia, Matt and Karen find themselves facing a terrifying quandary: is Steve dangerously unhinged? Or could the mysterious stranger really be evil incarnate?
With I Trapped The Devil hitting theaters on April 26th, Josh Lobo talks about how the concept came about, examines the relationships behind his three main characters, and reveals his thoughts on the film’s pulse-pounding ending. Check out our review as Lobo and I head into the director’s studio to discuss the craft of filmmaking.
Villain Media: Tell me how the premise came about.
Josh Lobo: Basically, I was always a big fan of The Twilight Zone. [The show] gets right to the point. There’s an episode, “The Howling Man.” I liked the central hook of trapping the Devil. That was something I was interested in. I had gone a couple of years without seeing the episode. This element though had stuck with me. What would the psychology be behind the person who essentially trapped evil? And the more I thought about the ramifications on the person trapping evil, I came up with the premise that was right for interpretation.
VM: What films or filmmakers do you think influenced your style?
JL: The film became a blender for the weird things that I like! There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there! I love Poltergeist! I didn’t have the budget for big special effects. At its core, it’s a family being terrorized by a supernatural presence. I took that and mixed it with a Roman Polanski-esque thriller. I love Mario Bava. The way we shot the film was very Mario Bava-esque.
VM: I loved Susan Burke’s performance as Karen! She’s my favorite of the three; the real standout of the film in my opinion. Tell me about working with Susan Burke to develop the character.
JL: I’m so happy you said that! Susan Burke is the main central character. I don’t think Susan has gotten enough love. I had always written Karen to be a silent protagonist. She was never meant to have a ton of dialogue. When you get into a family meeting, everybody knows each other. They know the dynamic. She was always meant to be the outsider, who really didn’t understand what was going on. She was trying to meld the two feuding brothers. What I love about Karen is that she’s the only proactive character in the entire movie. Steve (Scott Poythress) is borderline psychosis the entire movie. Matt (AJ Bowen) is wishy washy because he doesn’t really know whether to side with his wife, or side with his brother.
Karen is the only person actually trying to make the situation better. It was interesting to craft that character because so much of what she does is unspoken on purpose. The decisions that she makes are all very nuance. Susan brought a lot of depth to that. She really carried the weight of playing the loving wife. It’s a good relationship she has with Matt; they obviously care about each other. She’s trying to understand the situation without the baggage of being the brother. It’s from a more logical standpoint.
JL: Scott Poythress, AJ Bowen, and Susan Burke give such amazing performances. At times, I feel like I’m watching a play caught on camera. Does that theater-like dynamic come with the territory of shooting in one location?
JL: I think the movie could work in as a stage play down the line. It could be adapted into a stage play. At the end of the day, the whole thing is about character. It’s about how the characters react to each other. I think the trick was balancing them out, giving them enough screen time. All three of these people are very different. Steve is more erratic; he shifts from paranoid to violent to loving to tragic. Matt is sarcastic and an a$$hole. Karen is supportive but she doesn’t believe in the absurd right off the bat. When you’re writing, it’s working when the characters come alive!
VM: The red lighting in the basement reminds me of Aliens. Tell me about shooting these scenes this way.
JL: My cinematographer [Bryce Holden] is my best friend. We have a close relationship. We love a lot of the same things. As much as this film is a horror film, it’s also equal parts an arthouse film. We also wanted to make it visually interesting, especially with one location, it can be very monotonous. We wanted to make it visually arresting, while also telling the story. Every element of Steve’s home is designed for a specific function. The basement is working like a photo development lab. He’s basically putting all these conspiracy things in place. The attic is where his plan is coming together. His kitchen is out of necessity.
It’s a dark story. A lot of digital photography these days is very crisp. We wanted the exact opposite. We wanted each room to have signifying colors. As the story moves from room to room, you’re looking at something very different color-wise and texture-wise.
VM: I don’t want to say too much about the mind-blowing ending. But was that the ending you originally planned? Or had it changed much during production?
JL: All I’ll say about the ending is that when I was writing, I wanted to give the audience a definitive answer. Yes or no? Is this or isn’t the Devil? This isn’t a body count movie. This isn’t a jump scare movie. It’s a paranoid thriller that’s built on the back of dread.
VM: How did I Trapped The Devil change you as a director?
JL: It made me have to decide. Our shoot time was very limited. I had to make decisions. My growth came from having to trust my instinct. I made a movie the way I wanted to make. This is the movie I wanted to see in the theater. It has a great score! The performances are great; all across the board! It’s visually distinctive! At the end of the day, I’m happy with the film I made and I hope others are too.
VM: How can the readers of Villain Media find your movie?
JL: I Trapped The Devil will be in theaters and VOD on April 26th.
VM: What are you working on now?
JL: The next thing hopefully, which I’m thinking away right now, is a Kafkaesque horror adventure movie.
I Trapped The Devil arrives in theaters and VOD April 26th, 2019.
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]