In The Trap is the first English language feature from director Alessio Liguori (Report 51). Opening with an extended flashback sequence, a title card indicates this particular rainy night is in the sleepy seaside town of Devon. A young boy named Philip (Jude Forsey) is terrified of the usual child’s assortment of things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately for Philip, his monsters are not the sort that his loving mother can chase away with a hug and an extra kiss goodnight. That same evening, the mysterious entity murders his little sister, Isidore (Leila Gauntlett).
Stunned by grief, Philip and his mother (Paola Bontempi) pull closer together, taking comfort in what remains of their family, and in their deeply held Catholic faith. With the constant support of parish priest Father Andrew (David Bailie), Philip manages a mostly happy, if lonesome, childhood. This 10 minute opening sequence is an excellent showcase for the better aspects of the film, and likely went a long way toward securing In The Trap a US release.
Cinematographer Luca Santagostino does a skillful job of using light and color to subtly communicate tonal shifts, and Alessio Liguori has a music video veteran’s knack for stylish set pieces that works equally well. The apartment floods with warm golden light when Philip is happily at play, but moody blues and flickering shadows turn the rather palatial space claustrophobic as night falls. Philip peeks out from under a table, flipping through prayer cards of saints and angels as if they were his favorite baseball players. A candlelit icon of the Virgin Mary sits in a hallway alcove, a literal and metaphorical beacon of light amongst darkness.
Cut to the present day, where issues of both script and pacing squander the movie’s early promise. Reeling from the loss of his mother, adult Philip (Jaime Paul) is now a solitary proofreader, living in his childhood apartment. Father Andrew is still his main source of emotional support and human contact. Only when he meets violinist Catherine (Sonya Cullingford), does he tentatively begin to attempt an independent life of his own. The lovers have barely made it past their first date before Catherine becomes a host for the apartment’s familiar demon, and dies during an attempted exorcism.
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Having gotten a passing homage to the Exorcism Of Emily Rose out of the way, In The Trap takes an abrupt swerve toward psychological horror. Philip isolates himself even further from the world, refusing to leave his apartment. This sequence takes up roughly a third of the film, and some of that time would have been better spent in developing any of our central characters. It is impossible to emotionally invest in Philip’s likely descent into madness, when he is never allowed to grow past being a cowering trauma victim. Any character arc for Philip is interrupted with some new terror to bully him back into that cursed apartment. As for Catherine, her entire life and death was rushed into roughly 20 minutes of screen time, so we never really get to know her, or what Philip saw in her aside from a pulse.
There’s a solid cast of working international actors here, and every one of them is as game as possible with the thin as tissue characterization they are given. The film steadfastly refuses to trust its actors or its audience. Every single small action, from a fallen book to a first kiss, is heavily telegraphed. The lighting techniques used to such great effect early on become dull with overuse. The musical score is heavily stacked in favor of soap opera style sting musical cues.
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Father Andrew pops up to quote thematically important Biblical passages in sonorous tones, then vanishes into back into the ether. A Bible falls off of a shelf, and a central idea is neatly and literally underlined in red proofreader’s pencil. Rather than letting lead actor Jaime Paul show us Philip’s internal struggles of faith and potential mental illness, the film constantly tells us how to feel in the most hamfisted ways possible. By the time new neighbor Sonia (Miriam Galanti) shows up as Philip’s next temptation from the outside world, her slight scenery chewing as she waggles her eyebrows like a sexy parody of Fuad Rameses is a welcome dose of discernible personality. Like every other short-lived female character in the film, Sonia primarily serves as a catalyst plot device to guide the movie into a rushed final stretch.
In The Trap clearly aspired to being a high-minded allegory of the defeat of personal demons via a genre film about more otherworldly based exorcism. However, the film never really commits to either its philosophical or supernatural interpretations, and the choose your own adventure end result is a muddled mess. While occasionally visually stylish, In The Trap is spiritually hollow as a drama or a horror film, and does not quite work as either one.
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WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Alessio Liguori
Writer(s): Daniele Cosci, Alessio Liguori
Stars: Jamie Paul, David Bailie, Miriam Galanti, Sonya Cullingford
Release: April 10, 2020 (VOD/Digital)
Studio/ Production Co: DarkSky Films, MPI Media Group, Mad Rocket Entertainment
Length: 93 minutes