As part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
The story of the struggle between good and evil within the mind of an almost adolescent is by no means new. From the cult 1970s horror The Exorcist to Netflix’s mega hit Stranger Things, teens have had to put up with a lot more than acne. But you won’t find any revolving heads or demodogs in Andrew Hulme’s new drama, The Devil Outside.
This film is, in some ways, much more terrifying. It stars Noah Carson as Robert, a child on the verge of his teens, who is dominated by his hauntingly evangelical Christian mother (Keeley Forsyth). As David, a charismatic preacher (Mark Stobbart), arrives in town, Robert finds a new friend in the foul-mouthed rebel Marcus (Daniel Frogson) and also a sign from God: a dead body.
What is most disquieting about The Devil Outside is the depiction of power. The control that David wields over his congregation shows how easy it can be to blindly follow a “higher plan”. Likewise, the dominion his mother has over Robert gives a sense of extreme claustrophobia: besides his loving but fairly useless father (Alex Lowe), there is nowhere to escape.
A highlight of the film is the expertly shot scenes of Robert’s relationship with his mother’s mannequin. The imagined caresses give an insightful and intimate look at an adolescent on the brink of their sexuality. Similarly, the repeated image of Robert’s bedroom door opening at night is a brilliant rendition of childhood (and adulthood) fears. The slowly turning handle and the soft brush of wood against carpet is enough to bring anyone back into the brain of their younger, terrified selves.
Another star part of this film is the hilarious misfit between Marcus’s youth and his almost charming vulgarity. He spouts horribly explicit desires with the earnestness of a boy trying to be a man. This is funny in the same way that seeing a child wearing adult clothes is funny – it’s an act, a clown-like venture into the adult world. Although some people may find the young teens’ easy access to porn and their eagerness to replicate disturbing, in contrast to Robert’s evangelical home life, it’s a breath of comic relief.
In contrast to The Exorcist and Stranger Things, The Devil Outside does not use wild special effects or superhuman powers. It doesn’t need to. The slow brewing horror of inescapable oppression is more than enough to keep you gripped. This film is intelligent, provokingly disturbing and one of the most memorable films of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.