★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A young man isolates himself from the outside world after seeing his sister dragged off by a supernatural presence as a child and then witnessing his girlfriend being possessed by a demon in this highly effective Eurohorror-style chiller.
Directed by Alessio Liguori
If you have ever wondered why characters in movies remain in houses that seemingly have ghostly or demonic presences, pity poor Philip (Jamie Paul of The Darkest Dawn and the “Playtest” episode of Black Mirror, both 2016), the main character in director Alessio Liguori’s 2019 Italian English-language horror feature In the Trap. Philip has kept himself isolated in his apartment for two years because he thinks an evil entity that killed his sister when they were children is back to haunt and taunt him as an adult.
After opening sequences that show the aforementioned death of Philip’s sister and how the young boy and his religious mother Rose (Paola Bontempi of The Glass Coffin ) deal with the aftermath, viewers meet the adult Philip, a proofreader who falls in love with violinist Catherine (Sonya Cullingford, who performed stunts in The Mummy ). Philip’s other main connection with the outside world is Father Andrew (David Bailie of The House That Jack Built  and The Creeping Flesh ), his longtime spiritual advisor. After Catherine moves in with Philip, she seemingly becomes the victim of demonic possession, and when Father Andrew attempts to perform an exorcism, something goes wrong. Philip becomes ever more reclusive. When flirtatious new neighbor Sonia (Miriam Galanti of Scarlett ) drops by to ask for salt, he finds himself charmed, and finds himself conflicted as to whether he should allow her into his sheltered world.
A main litmus test for me with horror movies dealing with exorcism is how well the actors playing the possessed and the exorcist(s) do. It’s no easy task, and there is often a fine line between jaw-droppingly good and scenery-chewing corny. Cullingford is terrifically chilling as the possessed Catherine, alternating spitting out obscenities with pleas for help in a truly effective manner. Bailie acquits himself well as the priest performing the rites, and the two actors give the exorcism scenes a thrilling energy.
Daniele Cosci, who has previously written the scripts for several Italian horror shorts, delivers a smart, multilayered screenplay that combines possession and psychological horror well. It also takes a deep dive into the mail psyche and its potential conflicts with and between female relationships.
Liguori has crafted an eerie chiller with the feel of classic seventies Eurohorror cinema. Familiar haunted house and demonic possession tropes are used sparingly to help set the tone, but he uses these elements as building blocks to the bigger picture. He infuses the film with a sense of dread throughout, and is aided by a captivating score courtesy of Massimiliano Mechelli and Fabrizio Alviti’s (5 is the Perfect Number ) spine-tingling sound design.
In the Trap is far more than just a possession-based scare-fare film. It explores psychological and religious horror territory, offers some other styles of terror cinema that would be spoiling things if described here, and has an aesthetic that feels simultaneously accessible arthouse and classic foreign horror.
From Dark Sky Films, In the Trap is now available on Digital HD and on Video on Demand.