By Steph Cannon
There are certain genres of film that stand the test of time. No matter how much they’re replicated and rehashed, audiences will still flock to watch them - because the formula works. When we watch a horror film, we WANT to be scared, and we WANT to be transported into a story that mixes fantasy and reality in such a way that the lines between the two become blurred. In a sense, we are relieved in the comfort of knowing such a horrific event could never take place, but frightened enough to ponder if it somehow still could.
Possession movies fall easily into this category. Ever since William Friedkin was bold enough to terrify audiences with the tale of sweet little Regan becoming overtaken by a demonic force in The Exorcist, horror fans have been enthralled with stories of possession. THE DEVIL'S LEFT HAND, directed, written, and produced by veteran Harley Wallen, and co-produced by Joseph Williamson, takes aim at the popular genre by offering up a contemporary tale of a dark force wreaking havoc on its unfortunate victims.
New homeowners Richie (Kris Reilly) and Cassidy (Kaiti Wallen) inexplicably have the novel idea to hold a seance during their housewarming party. While this should come off as a red flag to most (regardless of their beliefs), their friends and party goers roll with it, promptly sitting in a circle and joining hands while Medium Vesna (Aphrodite Nikolovski) goes to work in an attempt to summon spirits and dark forces that may be lingering in the new home.
Vesna warns that they all must continue to hold hands until the seance is complete, but it doesn’t take long for everyone in attendance to begin experiencing strange and alarming occurrences. As such, they’re all startled and disturbed, thus breaking the chain of hands, as well as their focus.
As is expected with this type of formula, unexplainable and eerie happenings begin to vex those who were in attendance, particularly Richie and Cassidy. He is immediately put off and paranoid by the frightening noises he begins hearing in their home, while she initially remains skeptical and dismissive. Granted, Richie does come off as overreacting in the beginning, but it all becomes more clear once his tragic past is revealed.
At the age of twelve, Richie was the unfortunate witness to a brutal attack on his mother (Laurene Landon) from his own father, and in a moment of desperation, Richie took matters into his own hands in order to protect her, killing his father in the process. This ordeal has both traumatized and shaped him, and his mother never truly recovered, having been committed to a hospital after the grim events. Thankfully, past and present events begin to intersect, connecting old trauma with new threats that help to weave the overall story together in a way that is both logical and chilling.
Fearing for their lives, Richie and Cassidy, along with friends who were present during the seance, begin unraveling what it is they summoned, while relying on the guidance and help from Vesna and her assistant, Zeb (Harley Wallen) in order to eradicate it.
While in many ways, THE DEVIL'S LEFT HAND pulls from familiar possession story scenarios, it also strives to be unique and relevant. This isn’t your typical “demon who becomes linked to a single person” story. This is much more frightening, because this entity is able to transform itself into anyone a character may know and love, which in turn keeps them on edge and doubtful of their reality for the remainder of the film. With a young and interesting cast, the story is able to segue deeper into topics such as abuse and childhood trauma, without delving into the typical head spinning, pea soup spewing tropes associated with possession. Instead, it focuses on how our past is at times inescapable, and that humans are the true monsters, diminishing any thought of other-worldly entities that may show us harm.
Both Kris Reilly and Kaiti Wallen give commendable performances, portraying characters that, while having differing beliefs, ultimately come together as a formidable force, joined by their bond and understanding. While the pacing lags slightly in the middle, it keeps the viewer intrigued enough to be invested in the fates of these characters, especially once the scares get ratcheted up.
There are a few odd, jerky editing choices that unfortunately take you out of what’s unfolding in the moment, but the tone and atmosphere makes up for it by giving you snippets of true horror whenever you get lulled into a sense of complacency.
It’s evident that Wallen had a goal in mind to deliver a fresh perspective on a tried and true subject matter, and broadly achieves this, despite the few editing hiccups and unusual scene transitions. This is a psychological take as much as it is a horrific one, and will make you question your own reality a time or two.
THE DEVIL'S LEFT HAND is now available to watch on Tubi and other streaming platforms.