Studio: Standoff Pictures
Director: Abel Vang, Burlee Vang
Writer: Abel Vang, Burlee Vang
Producer: Abel Vang, Burlee Vang, Leng Yang, Cheng Yang, Kirk Roos
Stars: Saxon Sharbino, Mitchell Edwards, Brandon Soo Hoo, Carson Boatman, Victory Van Tuyl, Jordan Essoe, Alexis G. Zall
A paranormal presence haunting a mysterious phone app terrorizes five teenage friends.
The five friends battling an electronic age boogeyman in “Bedeviled” are exactly like the pals you probably had at their age. Assuming of course you went to high school inside a typical teen horror movie, where your clique ticked every checkbox for ethic diversity while including at least one tech whiz, an athlete, a smart ass, a good girl, and her casual rival with a prissy streak. You can additionally relate provided your guy friends had heartthrob hair, the girls looked ready for a runway, and everyone lived in a gorgeous home.
Sixth friend Nikki recently died. The others don’t know it yet, but Nikki was supernaturally spooked to death by a paranormal presence haunting a mysterious phone app. “Mr. Bedevil” is an A.I. assistant kind of “like Siri” explains someone. The only differences are that Mr. Bedevil has an annoying voice, speaks insultingly, interrupts at inopportune times, and usually doesn’t do what you say. So when dead girl Nikki’s phone impossibly sends everyone an invite to try the app for themselves, why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to throw away Alexa and Cortana for something infinitely inferior?
Mr. Bedevil is soon summoned to torment everyone according to personalized fears. Alice is plagued by visions of her dead grandmother. Cody sees shifty-eyed white women and harassing police officers. Gavin’s coulrophobia manifests in the form of clowns made up like Halloween haunt actors while Haley is frightened of a childhood teddy bear ridiculously rigged to be supposedly scary.
Now the five friends must find a way to uninstall the evil app before it can kill them all. Then the audience must discover if they can maintain any interest in the humdrum horror before deleting the movie from memory.
Directing duo Abel and Burlee Vang construct a visually attractive film staffed by photogenic actors and crisp production design. The brothers impressively made “Bedeviled” for six figures in three weeks and the result is prêt-a-porter alongside any millennial-geared thriller in an undiscerning multiplex. Yet with so much of that effort spent on scenes either copied, clichéd, or otherwise unoriginal, “Bedeviled” could have been completely compiled from stock footage.
Take your pick from the pile of flattened tropes: a meta-joke about the black guy being first to die in a horror movie (hilarious!), countdown clocks by way of computer loading bars (suspenseful!), not one single scare coming from something other than a sudden Spinal Tap spike in the volume (terrifying!). From little details like an attending detective penciling in a tiny notebook to generic bookends of a prologue death and a “he’s still out there!” epilogue, I cannot come up with one single thing in “Bedeviled” that isn’t derivative.
The film’s young cast is appealing enough, though no one shakes the script from his/her head to feel like a personality that isn’t from a page. Dialogue isn’t delivered all that stiffly, yet you can still see anticipation in everyone’s eyes as they wait to say lines in an on cue cadence.
It isn’t until midway through that “Bedeviled” makes it clear Cody was Nikki’s boyfriend, given how quickly his tears dry following the girl’s first act funeral. Main girl Alice later loses her beau and similarly mourns for less than one onscreen minute. Soon it is back to laughing and personal revelations between Alice and Cody as if friends dying regularly is more common than mom’s tuna casserole on Tuesdays. Alice and Cody should have had a romantic relationship instead. It would have made for stronger characters and a more emotional climax. Or more accurately, a climax with any emotion at all.
“Bedeviled” is basically a poor man’s “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Describing it as by-the-book isn’t quite right as it never turns past the first page of being pat, predictable, and pedestrian in every sense as a supernatural slasher. About the best that can be said of “Bedeviled” is that it is “eh, ok” for a SyFy Saturday matinee. As social media tech terror thrillers go, “Bedeviled” makes “Unfriended” (review here) look like “Casablanca.”
Review Score: 40