Sci-fi/horror hybrid The Diabolical certainly keeps you guessing. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your feelings about narrative ambiguity.
Ali Larter plays single mum Madison, considering filing for bankruptcy and harassed by a real estate agent who wants to buy her house. But there are other, more sinister predatory forces keeping Madison awake at night: a terrifying presence that stalks her and her children, Jacob (as in “ladder”) and Haley, but vanishes with a blue flash every time it seems about to harm them. Is the ‘haunting’ a delusion brought on by stress? Is it a supernatural force with a deadly purpose? And, perhaps more importantly, why doesn’t Madison just take the realtor’s offer, grab her children, and get the hell out of Dodge?
Co-writer/director Alistair Legrand shows plenty of promise with his debut film, produced by the prolific Ross M. Dinsersten and bearing some of the same hallmarks as his other films, The Pact and The Nightmare; indeed, the ‘shadow men’ from the latter film could be the inspiration for the presence that menaces Madison and her family. The film produces plenty of scares and spooky moments – many of them lifted from other, better films – despite the fact that the sudden disappearance of the entity at crucial moments tends to undercut the tension. Legrand’s grasp of narrative imperatives is less certain, however, and although he is to be applauded for attempting to blend science fiction and horror with some intriguing twists, rather than falling back on fashionable ghost story tropes, there is really nothing here we haven’t seen in one of the better episodes of The X-Files.
That said, The Diabolical is a diverting, if not exactly compelling, 82 minutes, with some impressive creature effects and enough intriguing ideas to make me wonder what Legrand will come up with next.