Monday, April 10, 2017

The Devil Wears Coachella (cause that's a clothing brand, right?)

Like any teen-centric horror flick, Satanic opens with a deep quote about hell by none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Okay then. 

Quick Plot: It's spring break, and a quartet of mostly awful college students are driving to LA for a few days of satanic tourism, followed by a stay at Coachella.

Yes. As you can imagine, they're incredibly likable human beings.

Chloe (Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) is the most human of the bunch, while her jerky boyfriend David huffs around acting better than everyone, her cousin Elise channels a halfhearted goth girl who thought The Craft was hardcore, and Elise's boyfriend Seth manages to be worse than all them combined. Offended at the sheer rudeness of an occult store cashier, the gang decides it would be a great idea to follow the practicing satanist on a midnight drive.

Things go great, obviously.

Rude occult store cashier and his pals seem to be taking part in a kind of ritualistic sacrifice of a young woman named Alice, who flees before having her throat cut. The next day, Alice joins the group in their maybe-haunted hotel room, partying like any former satanic cult member/teenage runaway does.

An hour into the film, stuff happens.

My description for Satanic probably sounds like I despised the movie, but by its end, I found a few things to like. Hyland is sympathetic enough to root for, (even if the movie gives her no discerning trait other than "is nicer than her friends") and a few decent jump scares shake things up well. I also couldn't decide if the odd pacing choices were terrible or brilliant.

See, we're used to a certain formula with any teen-centric And Then There Were None-style horror flicks. The fact that Satanic opens with a teaser from the ending (one of my more hated trends in recent horror, most notably used to terrible effect in Don't Breathe) certainly tells us that we're getting something pretty formulaic. But writer Anthony Jaswinski (of the solid Kristy)'s screenplay seems to toy with some of our expectation, spending far more time on the weirdness of Alice's hotel hijinks than the actual horror aftermath. There's something fresh about this in concept, but unfortunately, with such bland characters at its core, it doesn't really do much.

The last 20 minutes or so are spent, rather literally, running in circles around an abandoned warehouse. Characters we've watched for over an hour are dispatched quickly offscreen. Big ideas about hell being a state of mind are introduced, only to culminate in that equaling dismemberment and darkness.


Directed by Jeffrey Hunt (who has a long career in directing for television), Satanic is the kind of movie perfectly suited to the walls of Netflix Instant, where some stoned college kids might come upon it or a teenage slumber party could scream with each other in solidarity or roll their eyes while playing Candy Crush (KIDS!). I'll fully admit that hearing my protagonists whine about missing Coachella brought upon me a certain realization that this kind of genre film would be growing more and more distant from my own sensibilities as the years go by, which was upsetting in its own odd little way.

Maybe more so than a batch of fairly unlikable millennials being sent to hell.

High Points
As someone who has never spent any significant time in LA, I appreciated Satanic's use of the city to establish a very particular environment of sunniness with a strong undercurrent of evil 

Low Points
It's just getting harder and harder to invest in a film about how terrible the young people of today are

Lessons Learned
If (or rather, when) a satanist spits, it's going to be loaded with a lot of phlegm and aggression

LA hotels will charge guests extra to stay in rooms where guests committed suicide

Walking to the house once owned by Sharon Tate requires good leg muscles

Homeless teenage runaway satanists have super shiny hair

The Winning Line
"Why are we not at a taping of Two and a Half Men?" whines David, the Christian alpha male of the group, begging the question: would you rather be sent to hell with your limbs torn off, or be forced to sit through Charlie Sheen doing CBS comedy?

I probably go a lot easier on films like this than a lot of other diehard horror fans, but what can I say? Satanic isn't terrible. It's an "assemble attractive 20somethings for a brutal death in under 90 minutes" kind of movie, and as that surprisingly large subgenre goes, it's better than many. The production values are strong, the cast is able, and the LA scenery is used to fairly interesting effect. I'd never argue for a place for it on your DVD shelf, but if you're doing one of those infamous Netflix Instant movie searches where you find yourself spending more time trying to figure out what to watch than actually watching a movie, this isn't terrible. Not really GOOD, but you know...fine?


  1. Well... you certainly get me to watch things I probably wouldn't otherwise.
    I'd steered around this one based on the cover (cover of what? what's the right term for an movie ad image that isn't a poster or a VHS cover?).

    But, sure... I'll give it a try... so I gave it a try.
    Did not give a single fuck about the kids. none. I think that was largely due to bland casting and even blander writing... the writing was pretty shit.
    I don't think it's my age vs. the age of the characters that put me off... I was put off by poorly written teens/20ishers when I was still that age as well.
    BUT... there was just a bit of a... something... in this movie. Something it was going for... or something I WANTED it to go for. But it missed by a fair distance. The same way that mayonnaise isn't quite chocolate pudding.

    1. I'm a big Modern Family fan, so I was pre-destined to at least like the final girl. The cover art looks ridiculously homemade, but I've found a lot of horror films on Netflix Instant are shown with artwork that doesn't necessarily represent the quality of the film (Dead Within is a great example of that).

      And I totally see what you mean with the "wanting more" from the movie. It's not quite doing the same thing you've seen done over and over again. The LA setting is used well, the pacing is odd in a way where you wonder if the director had some innovative ideas, and the finale makes you WANT to be excited. It doesn't succeed, but I agree that there's a kernel of something worthwhile. I just don't know what it is! (maybe chocolate mayonnaise, which is sounding tastier and tastier the more I think about it)

  2. "brought upon me a certain realization that this kind of genre film would be growing more and more distant from my own sensibilities as the years go by, which was upsetting in its own odd little way."

    I remember when 'The Messengers' came out and I distinctly sided with Dylan McDermott's character as a long-suffering father rather than the stupid whiny brat Kristen Stuart that I realized I had aged into a new POV in who I identify with in movies. It's a really strange occurrence when it happens.

    1. Yup, it's a weird, weird moment when you accept that you're on the other side of a certain generation! Glad I'm not alone!