out of Five
Running time: 75
Creepy, atmospheric and making a virtue of its low budget, this is an engaging and unsettling British horror with effectively claustrophobic direction and strong performances from the two leads.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Sean Hogan, The Devil's Business stars Billy Clarke and Jack Gordon as Pinner and Jack, an experienced, older hitman and his impatient, ambitious sidekick. They arrive at an isolated house and break in to await their latest victim, Kist (Jonathan Hansler), a former associate of their gangster boss Bruno (Harry Miller). As they wait, Pinner begins to tell Cully a creepy story about Bruno falling for an exotic dancer named Valentina, but a noise from outside cuts him off before he can finish and when the men investigate, they find evidence of a hideous Satanic ritual in the garage. Shortly afterwards, Kist returns from the opera and the hit appears to go as planned...or does it?
Billy Clarke is superb as Pinner, delivering a performance that subtly hints at an extremely dark past, the memories of which are constantly lurking just beneath the surface. Jack Gordon is equally good as Cully, whose cockiness gradually crumbles away as the reality of their situation begins to dawn on him. There's also strong support from both Harry Miller and Jonathan Hansler, but this is essentially a two-hander, with the screenplay heavily influenced by Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter (Clarke's character's name is an obvious homage).
The Devil's Business would play well in a double bill with Ben Wheatley's Kill List, since both movies share a similar central idea of hitmen being slowly drawn into black magic (as one reviewer waggishly pointed out, it's essentially Kill Kist, rather than Kill List). At any rate, Hogan's strongly atmospheric direction makes a virtue of the film's low budget (it's no coincidence that the characters refuse to turn any lights on) and the film's special effects, courtesy of low budget FX maestro Dan Martin, are extremely impressive.
The Equally Good
In addition, the sound design is exceptional and genuinely terrifying in places, particularly during a key scene set in the garage. There's also a suitably creepy score by Justin Greaves that's used effectively throughout. The only real problem is the ending, which seems too over the top and risks tipping into the comical, compared to the slow-burning, suggestively dark build-up that comprises the rest of the film.
This is an impressively directed, genuinely creepy and superbly acted British horror that marks writer/director Sean Hogan out as a talent to watch. Worth seeking out.