‘Se7en’ is one of my favourite movies. I saw it at the cinema without prior knowledge and was completely blown away by its gothic aesthetic, by its creative and graphic violence, and by the nihilism of it all. Everyone else loved it too and a whole raft of copycats was released, each one more inferior than the last. This trend was reversed by Leigh Whannell’s ‘Saw’ in 2004 which remains one of my favourite movies of the last ten years; it was quickly followed by another seemingly endless stream of copycats and it, along with Eli Roth turdfest ‘Hostel’, heralded a new age of, what came to be known as, ‘torture porn’. It’s not a term I use and think it devalues some films and adds merit to ones that do not deserve it but, in common parlance, it is now an umbrella term for anything in which deliberate and graphic suffering is caused. Owing a debt to both these films is Signature Entertainment’s upcoming release ‘Shame The Devil’.
The plot revolves around James, a London detective, who finds himself at the centre of a serial murder case in which the victims have been rigged to lie detectors, giving them the chance to live by telling the truth. As the case develops it becomes increasingly apparent that James is more integral to the case than he realises and when he is continually tied to the case he is suspended from duty. Fearing for the lives of his wife and their unborn child he continues his investigation in secret, ultimately turning to an old flame in New York for help. When the case takes him to The Big Apple, the killer goes with him; will James piece it all together before past sins come crashing down on him?
The main issue that I have with ‘Shame The Devil’ is the script. Whilst on one hand it follows a well-worn format with which the audience is immediately familiar, on the other it becomes increasingly convoluted as it develops; regardless we end up with exactly the same denouement we expected after about a minute of the film beginning. The main problem is that it attempts to lift elements from different genre movies and stick them together into a coherent whole; a tried and tested strategy that, sadly, does not work well here. All evidence points to the killer punishing liars according to The Ten Commandments, then according to the Seven Deadly Sins, then according to relationships with our protagonist, then again according to their names relating to Jesus’ disciples, but when the killer’s motives are revealed it seems that none of these are remotely true or relevant. The big reveal is also telegraphed throughout via flashbacks so there are no real surprises when it finally arrives. Whilst many films of this kind depend on suspension of disbelief ‘Shame The Devil’ takes this to another level at points; to avoid spoilers I shan’t elaborate but there are plot holes and logical jumps that are hard to swallow.
The cast of the piece are generally good though some of the characters are underdeveloped. Standouts are Juliette Bennett, who is convincing and watchable as the lead’s ex-partner Sarah, and Will De Meo who is similarly good in a small but important role as James’ naïve young sidekick Lee. Lucy Clements, as James’ wife Kellie, seems to spend much of the film inexplicably angry although, as a pregnant woman, this is probably accurate in terms of her character. Genre legend Doug Bradley is also allegedly in there but is criminally wasted in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role; in fact, if I hadn’t known in the first place I would have struggled to spot him. The biggest issue with the cast is leading man Simon Phillips who, despite James being the stereotypical burned out cop, manages to be wooden, stilted, and thoroughly unconvincing throughout. Having made a career out of playing angry cockney hard men on screen it is baffling that here he fails to give James even a hint of the rage his previous roles have shown.
‘Shame The Devil’ is director Paul Tanter’s first foray into horror film making; his previous work has been limited to the cockney-gangster-hooligan sub-genre and, with movies like ‘Jack Said’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan’ on his resume, my hopes were not high. He does however do a good job with ‘Shame The Devil’ and gives the movie a washed-out, faded look that is quite striking. Similarly, his previous experience with London-centric movies serves him well here and the sections set in London are well shot and give some interesting perspectives on the city. The flashback contrivance, whilst massively overused, is well organised and whilst it could have been a little more ambiguous for this reviewer, it is stylishly done and serves to further flesh out the narrative. It is also worthy of note that the opening scene, which will be instantly familiar to genre fans, is very well done and is the film’s stand out sequence; it is gruesome, well performed, and instantly engaging. Similarly, whilst the killer’s identity is nowhere near the mystery that the movie thinks it is, the twist at the very end was excellent and really caught me by surprise. As a jaded reviewer, I applaud Mr. Tanter for eliciting that reaction. It’s a shame that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to its opening or closing segments but he is clearly a director that, with his debut genre effort now under his wing, could go on to make a great low-budget, British horror.
This has been a difficult review to write. I have huge reservations about the movie, especially regarding the overly-convoluted plot, but I had a good time watching it. The performances are generally good and it has an interesting, if wholly unoriginal, central conceit. The director at the helm knows how to put together a solid, nuts-and-bolts, thriller and how to shoot it well; perhaps steering clear of the writing side of things next time he ventures into horror might help the finished product however. The scenes that bookend the film are great and any film that can still surprise me with a twist ending is worthy of grudging recommendation. Try not to overthink it and you’ll have good fun with ‘Shame The Devil’.
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Shame The Devil UK Release 23rd June 2014