Studio: Olive Films
Director: Paul Tanter
Writer: Paul Tanter
Producer: Toby Meredith, Simon Phillips, Alain Wildberger, Paul Tanter
Stars: Simon Phillips, Juliette Bennett, Will de Meo, Bradford West, Doug Bradley, Kellie Shirley, Peter Woodward, Peter Barrett, Lucy Clements, Jack Murray, Martin Fisher
A detective investigating a serial killer who forces victims to tell the truth or suffer horrible deaths discovers he has a mysterious connection to the case.
The UK box cover for “Shame the Devil” touts it as a British version of “Saw.” Perhaps in keeping with the film’s theme of telling the truth or suffering the consequences, at least the production is upfront at the outset about whose template lies face down on the glass of its Xerox machine.
Shawnee Smith wakes from unconsciousness to find a reverse bear trap fitted to her face. A disguised voice then --- sorry, strike that --- A London supermarket manager wakes from unconsciousness to find a shotgun contraption pointed at his face. A disguised voice then explains that the trigger is attached to a lie detector and there is about to be an inquisition. Tell the truth and live. Tell a lie and die.
Things don’t turn out so well for that man. Nor do they go any better for the next pair of victims instructed to tell the truth and “shame the devil.” Scotland Yard detective James Trent is assigned to the case. The more he digs into the biblical connections surrounding the killer’s motivation, the more he realizes that the only person who can help him is his psychologist ex-girlfriend Sarah. Much to the chagrin of James’ pregnant wife Kellie, James jumps the pond to New York where he and Sarah can work on uncovering the madman’s identity. Trouble is, the killer appears to have crossed the ocean, as well.
Forgiving the movie’s copycat premise and far-fetched twists for a moment, “Shame the Devil” turns out enough interesting moments to give its mystery an initial allure. It may be a rip of each X and every O from Jigsaw’s playbook, but I guiltily admit that the story had me curious about the killer’s possible identity and the apparent Ten Commandments connection between the crimes.
“Shame the Devil” rides the middle of the road on nearly all creative fronts. The New York and London locations look nice. Plentiful exteriors and competent photography open up the production value and it appears evident that real money was put into the effort. On the other hand, the editing cutting it together gets cheeky. Segues between scenes employ music video montages of clinking wine glasses, echoed dialogue, and bible passages as de facto chapter headings that read as overinflated and unnecessary symbolism. Lump that in with some repeated dialogue lines and minor detail inconsistencies and it looks like the screenplay left the editing phase one draft too early.
While the setup can keep an attention span engaged for the first half of the film, it is the latter half where the script rides off the rails with improbable plot devices like poisons, antidotes, and polygraph-triggered lock boxes. Like many fictional serial killers, the maniac of “Shame the Devil” has a diabolical plan so ludicrous that even the detective and the profiler cannot pinpoint if he is killing violators of the Ten Commandments, men with the first names of Jesus’ apostles, or following some other whacked out methodology entirely. Looking back on it when all is revealed, you realize that it is the most ridiculously overcomplicated scheme ever devised to accomplish what the objective ultimately is.
Worse, the ending cheats completely by revealing the co-conspirator to be an unseen character first mentioned in the final few minutes of the film. “Victor showed me the way,” says the primary killer. Who the hell is Victor? I honestly wonder if Victor was a last minute addition to explain how the cab driver was killed at the same time James attended Sarah’s lecture, and/or to shoehorn Doug Bradley into what basically amounts to a superfluous role.
Casting a familiar genre face in a throwaway part is nothing new for producers of low-budget thrillers desperate for marketing bullet points. Many a four and five-figure paycheck has been cut to B-movie names for a few hours work just to say “so and so” appears in this movie. “Shame the Devil” takes the trophy for most egregious transgressor of this trick by billing Doug Bradley as one of its stars. If you’re seeing “Shame the Devil” for the “Hellraiser” icon, don’t. Bradley says literally just two words in an undistorted voice and appears in only one brief shot right before the end credits. That shot is of him donning a hat in the shadows. Since his face is obscured, the only way to even know it is Bradley is because the credits say so.
As I type these myriad ways the movie cuts corners with plotting and disappoints with delivery, I’m now second-guessing why I graded it as high as three out of five stars. Truth be told, there isn’t enough incentive to spend any more time thinking about it.
While the preposterous resolution is a letdown, the buildup maintains enough mild intrigue to put itself on par with an average episode of “Law and Order” or “Criminal Minds.” Really, “Shame the Devil” is neither no more nor no less offensive than those options as a way to occupy 90 minutes of disposable crime-drama entertainment.
Review Score: 60