Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Jeffrey Hunt
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Producer: Michael Moran, Lawrence Mattis
Stars: Sarah Hyland, Steven Krueger, Justin Chon, Clara Mamet, Sophie Dalah, Anthony Carrigan
Four friends touring occult landmarks in Los Angeles become part of a strange Satanic experience after encountering a mysterious young woman.
An odd conceit of “Satanic” is to stamp the screen with a time and location at irregular intervals. While possibly functioning as an “X-Files” homage, the text doesn’t serve any noticeable purpose other than inspiring a similarly strange idea about how to format this review. What follows are time stamps of approximate points in the runtime along with random thoughts that should provide a fair sense of the film.
0:01:00 – Stock footage of Anton Szandor LaVey shows the Church of Satan founder presiding over a wedding ceremony intercut with clips of a silent movie featuring cartoon and dancing devils. A Samuel Taylor Coleridge quote separates a segment of someone in silhouette sobbing her way down a hallway adorned with bloody symbols. Up next is an aerial swoop through the downtown L.A. skyline at night. So far, the card identifying “Circle of Confusion” as a production company appears more appropriate than the card telling us the title is “Satanic.”
0:03:00 – Lines like “you want a hit off this J,” “L.A. spread your legs,” and “I’m so tired, I can barely get high” introduce Coachella-bound twentysomethings Elise, Seth, Chloe, and David. Dopey dialogue serves as a simultaneous warning that the next eighty minutes will be spent in the company of an insufferable foursome as annoying as they are stereotypical.
0:05:00 – Taking a sightseeing side trip around L.A. occult landmarks before making their way to the music festival, stop #1 is the Flower Hotel. Elise and her friends have reserved room 204, as it is where former LaVey follower Laney Gore slit her throat in 1972. A quickie Ouija session goes nowhere, though the site proves more significant than anyone initially realizes as this doomed experience continues to unfold.
0:15:00 – While the story isn’t lighting any fires, cinematography, sound, and production value are up to snuff at a reasonable standard of quality. Until a cricket seems to chirp every time the camera cuts to an occult store clerk behind the counter. I chalk it up to a technical flaw in the playback, intentional inclusion on the soundtrack, or even an echo from my patio. Then I confirm the noise only occurs when the clerk delivers lines with his mouth shown onscreen. Nope. Fairly sure that really is a cricket.
0:17:00 – Chloe, David, Elise, and Seth spend a minute in montage bouncing around Hollywood and Santa Monica to a song with the repeated lyric, “wrap your legs around my religion.” I tally that the four friends have only visited two fictional locations, one authentic address, and an occult bookstore. This is a pretty sh*tty tour of Los Angeles’ Satanic underground.
0:27:00 – Trespassing against common sense, the intrepid quartet witnesses a shocking event that turns their trip upside down. Aside from establishing the hotel location earlier, this is the first major point placed on the plotline, effectively rendering the preceding half-hour as almost entirely insignificant filler.
0:30:00 – The group meets Alice, a mysterious young woman who recently escaped a cult under circumstances just as mysterious. Against common sense, again, Elise and the others invite Alice to stay the night with them, and Alice is pleased as punch to learn that night will be spent in the same room where Laney Gore took her life by bathing in her own blood.
0:39:00 – Following four minutes of coffee shop conversation, and another four minutes of mid-movie exposition, it’s time to party by continuing to pad the runtime. Alice dances for a full three minutes before selling everyone on the idea of a summoning session that ends with Alice drawing a pentagram on the wall, vomiting, peeing on the floor, and pulling a stunt so horrible, the rest of the evening is spent in a police station.
0:59:00 – Satanic shenanigans kick up a notch when seemingly supernatural vandalism results in kitchen cutlery embedded in the ceiling. There must be 90 or 100 pieces of silverware stuck up there, leading one to wonder, who keeps that many forks lying around? Outside, a flock of dead birds floats in a swimming pool discolored by poorly-digitized blood. Note that there has been only one death up to this point, meaning that the crux of what “Satanic” has by way of horror doesn’t amp up until the film is already two-thirds over.
1:07:00 – A character disappears inside an alleyway port-a-potty. I ask out loud, what foolish contractor leaves a port-a-potty unlocked overnight in downtown L.A. that close to Skid Row? I then laugh at my own foolishness for thinking this would even make the list of the movie’s more unbelievable details.
1:20:00 – “Satanic” cuts to credits on a final shot so ridiculous, there is zero doubt in my mind that had I seen the film in a theater, an audience would have collectively released a deafening groan of disappointed disapproval.
1:25:00 – Credits concluded, now comes the conundrum of how best to summarize the film and assign a score making some semblance of sense for a movie making little sense of its own.
Performances are blasé at best, but whose fault is that? What is Sarah Hyland to do with mediocre material tasking her primarily with screaming? How is anyone else supposed to craft an endearing personality from the vapid characterization of a goth wannabe or suburban stoner?
As with other aspects of “Satanic,” it’s difficult to discern where things went wrong. There are a lot of camera setups and competent lighting schemes suggesting plentiful professional planning. Then there are sound issues and hasty visual effects alternately indicating cut corners on ADR and post-production.
The script has a promising premise of exploring sordid L.A. history inside a supernatural slasher setup. Yet the threads are not tied together sensibly, leaving half the film as an almost unrelated prologue rather than an integral chapter in a sprawling Satanic horror saga.
Effort in some places, carelessness in others, “Satanic” comes together as a “could have been” movie. It could have been chilling. It could have been compelling. It could have been entertaining. Instead, a slow-to-unfold story populated by hollow people and told via unsatisfying execution has no honest opportunity to cast a hook into the viewer.
Review Score: 35