The past few years have gifted us some notable debut features in the form of Robert Eggers’ The Witch, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, to name just three. I Trapped The Devil, from writer-director (as well as editor, producer, and probably lots more) Josh Lobo, is unlike anything else we’ve seen.
A singularly odd, intense, and very creepy first feature that gets in, does the job, and gets out in less than 90 minutes, it’s the kind of movie that defies easy categorization. I Trapped The Devil also marks Lobo out as an exciting and crucially very different new voice in horror.
Wicked Horror sat down with writer-director Lobo to talk art-house horror, influences, what Wyoming is really famous for, and loads more. I Trapped the Devil is in select theaters and On Demand from April 26, 2019.
Wicked Horror: Usually, with first features, they’re pretty easy to categorize. I Trapped The Devil is a bit of weird one, so I’d like you to describe the movie for me, in your own words, if you’d be so kind.
Josh Lobo: Well, it’s a horror movie, obviously, but the film sort of straddles the line between horror and art-house movies. This isn’t a body count, shaking-in-your-boots kind of movie, it’s definitely more of a paranoid thriller with a supernatural element to it. I think it’s a lot more contemplative than a lot of the regular genre stuff.
WH: Where did the idea initially come from?
JL: I had been reading a lot of Stephen King, and watching a lot of Twilight Zone, so I was looking for the kind of story where I could tell a morality tale with interesting characters where the horror comes from the drama itself. And where I don’t think this film is necessarily scary, it is very tense and it has this presiding feeling of dread. I think more than anything the film is a tone poem and I just wanted to make something that was sort of an exercise in atmosphere.
WH: It’s pretty intense, but you’re right in that there aren’t really any big, out-and-out scares. Yet, still, that sense of impending dread is present pretty much from the outset. The other thing with I Trapped The Devil, of course, is that it isn’t a long movie. It’s not even 90 minutes but that sense of dread is there throughout and it never really lets up.
WH: Was it a quick enough process getting the story from page to screen?
JL: It took about a year overall. There had been a couple other things I tried to get made but, when you don’t even have a résumé people don’t want to take you seriously, and so it was about gathering all of my resources, getting my friends and my crew together, to just get this thing made. It was like, I want to make this film, I only have enough money for these many days, so what can I do for a feasible budget that I can produce myself? My family helped me, too, so it was just about making the best thing I can make for as reasonable an amount as possible, while focusing on the things that truly matter to me and that will make the film stand the test of time – good acting, good pacing, and good directing tend to stand the test of time better than movies that are like a quick flash, you know? – so I wanted to make something that people would think about a little bit longer but that was also rooted in character. Those dynamics that really mattered to me.
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WH: You have quite a small cast, but you’ve got these big names in horror like AJ Bowen and Jocelin Donahue within that group. Was casting a very crucial part of the process for you?
JL: It was, absolutely. This movie operates like a stage play and both of my producers were of the same opinion as I was that, you know, this movie is all about the characters and if you don’t have those, you don’t have anything. I can shoot this like Spielberg, when it comes to camera movements and stuff, but if the acting isn’t good and if these characters aren’t believable as real people, then the story doesn’t work. So I’d reached out to AJ, who I’ve loved for a very long time, and we had no real jumping off point with him but he’s such a good guy and he told us that some of his best friends are also some of the most talented people in the world and what they could bring to the project is that they all know each other and they all have a chemistry with each other already. I could have cast any of these characters differently but I don’t think I would have got the inherent chemistry because all these people have worked together before, they’ve all known each other for a long time, and so it feels like they have a history together because they do have a history together.
WH: It totally does. I didn’t know watching the movie but now that you’ve said it; that makes total sense they all knew each other already.
JL: AJ and Scott [Poythress] have been working together for a while, between The Signal, Synchronicity, this, and then some other things down the pipeline. They really work together well and they’ve found a way to jump off each other’s performances really well. For this, I needed two characters who felt like brothers and with these two they know each other, they’re comfortable with each other, they’re not trying to get to know each other on the day of shooting. And then Susan Burke is an incredibly warm person and she brought this stillness to the film, it’s very coordinated, very thoughtful, so all of them – Jocelin was fantastic too, I love her in House of the Devil, so I reached out to her and she was willing to come on even though it’s not the biggest role in the world, but hers is still a standout performance – so all these people just worked in tandem to create this film that I’m incredibly happy with.
WH: The other big thing is the location, which is just incredible. Where did you find it, where is it, please tell me everything immediately.
JL: I live in Wyoming, which is the one forgotten American state, like, nobody lives here, nobody knows about it, that’s the kind of place it is. And while I was writing the movie, I would drive through my town and past this house all the time. I would just think ‘wow, that’s a cool house, like it looks cool, it has cool dimensions,’ but I had no idea what it looked like inside. So I was writing how I thought the house looked, how it might be laid out, and when the script was finally done and we were finally about to make this thing, I went to the owners of the house, who were incredibly gracious, and when they gave me a tour of the house it was laid out almost exactly as I had laid it out in my mind, which is almost like fate. I didn’t have to change a whole lot, it was crazy. Then my production designer and my cinematographer came in and they brought it to life with a bunch of different texture and color.
WH: It’s definitely a cool spot. Though, speaking of Wyoming, I have to tell you, one of my favorite bands is from Wyoming so I’m actually quite familiar with Wyoming.
WH: Teenage Bottlerocket?
JL: [pause] It’s absolutely insane you just said that because I love them.
WH: They’re amazing. They’re so good. As soon as you said Wyoming I was thinking “no, I know Wyoming!”
JL: Somebody I grew up with was one of their roadies, which was pretty cool. But yeah, they’re great; they’re probably one of the best punk bands, I think.
WH: Totally agree. Sorry, off topic, back to your movie. Let’s talk about some of the influences on I Trapped The Devil. I mean,I presume you’re a horror fan yourself? Or are you just dipping your toe in?
JL: I love horror films. But I love horror films in a non-pretentious way. I will take a splattery, exploitation flick just as many times as I’ll take a more art-house film. I think my sensibilities lie more on the art-house side; I love David Lynch, I love Ryan Gosling’s film Lost River, which is a f*****g masterpiece nobody talks about, I love Peter Weir’s films like Picnic at Hanging Rock. I like these kind of weird films that have elements of genre, and that maybe are even scary, but I don’t know whether they’d necessarily be classified as horror. But I also Night of the Creeps, John Carpenter, and Cronenberg, so it’s kind of a melding. So, with I Trapped The Devil, I was trying to meld my sensibilities, the two sides, together.
WH: I can see that, definitely. What are your feelings on the state of horror right now? ‘Cause we’re seeing so much more variety at the moment than really ever before, at least not for a while.
JL: Like everything, it comes in waves. Horror is a great genre because you can make something for not a lot of money that both thrills an audience and makes an audience think. Right now, we’re in the middle of this superhero-blockbuster phase, where we’re just seeing these huge movies, and on the other side of it are these smaller, character-driven horror movies. They’re both thrilling in their own ways and I think they also complement each other in a lot of ways. But I imagine, in a few years, horror is going to chill out a little bit, maybe even go dormant for a while, you know like how in the early 2000s it wasn’t that big, only really Saw was big but that was about it? So I think that’s going to happen again, and then in 20 years’ time horror will have a resurgence again, along with superhero movies. It all just comes in cycles.
WH: Two of the biggest indie horror guys, James Wan and David F. Sandberg, both went on to do these massive superhero movies too, so it’s all connected.
JL: Yeah, 100 per cent. As much as I love horror and spectacle films, I’m really interested in how both will mellow out. Horror is always big, but it can’t be big big, for 20 years straight, because people will just get exhausted with it. Same with superhero movies. So maybe not now, maybe five years from now, it’ll happen. But I do think it will all mellow out because it has to. But that’s a good thing, because you can get reacquainted with the genre, get excited for it, and then fall in love with all of these things again after missing them for a while.
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WH: For sure. Just on the title of your movie, which is very literal, I was wondering whether the wording was deliberate? You’re careful to refer to this character as ‘The Devil’ as opposed to ‘Satan.’ Was that a deliberate choice on your part?
JL: The film was originally titled A Man in the Dark, which is more ambiguous. We made the conscious decision to change the title to I Trapped The Devil because it’s a more bold title. A Man in the Dark is more fluent, more ambiguous, but I Trapped The Devil makes a statement and that’s what I wanted for this film, I wanted it to make a statement. From an acting standpoint, too, it’s bold. Even though this is a very quiet, cerebral thriller, it has enough stuff in it that having a definitive title was the way to go.
WH: Would you consider yourself to be a spiritual, or even religious, person?
JL: I’m not the most religious person, so I didn’t come to the film with that in mind. I don’t think the film gets too caught up with religion, it’s more concerned with the question of “what is evil?”
WH: It makes sense, especially because Satan is so hot right now, with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and whatnot. It was a wise choice on your part, to keep it more generalized.
JL: It was a very conscious decision to have them not trap Satan. The movie is more about good and evil, and where the line is drawn, and what would you do to deter that, than it is with being a satanic thriller. It’s not about Satan, rather it’s a contemplation on good and evil.
WH: Right, it’s more about an idea than an entity or a figurehead.
WH: What’s on your radar next, then? Will you be returning to horror or branching out into something different?
JL: I’m working right now on a horror adventure film that’s a little bit more cerebral. It has a lot of character work, again, but it has a little bit more of the genre elements, so a little bit more meat and potatoes to it. [pause] Hopefully that’s what we’re doing next!
WH: Don’t tempt fate.
JL: Right, knock on wood. There are so many of these projects that are kind of up in the air, but we’re really pursuing this one in a big way, and I think it’s idiosyncratic enough that it will work.
WH: Can’t wait to check it out!
Catch I Trapped The Devil in select theaters and On Demand from April 26, 2019