I have to admit, when I first heard the basic plot of Devil May Call, I was not enthused. A blind woman stalked by a relentless killer? It's been done before. But here's the thing: writer / director Jason Cuadrado may not be blazing a new trail or coming up with a wildly inventive tale, but he delivers a taut, tense and enjoyable thriller.
Sam, played by genre stalwart Corri English, is an operator at a non-profit mental health crisis line. The organization is moving to newer, better accommodations, so tonight's the last night in the old building. The phones are spotty, the power tends to go off, and the elevators have a mind of their own. Sam is joined on the overnight shift by new guy Jess (Van Hansis), fellow operator Val (Traci Lords) and grumpy goth Jules (Tracy Perez), who is stuck there dong community service.
Sam has a regular caller, named John (played with menacing effect by Tyler Mane) who will only talk to her. We find out in the first few frames of the film that John is a serial killer, stalking women and murdering them in his isolated home, though Sam has no idea. When John inadvertently discovers that Sam is leaving the crisis line to pursue other work, and that tonight is her last night, he becomes enraged, and comes down to the building to let her know exactly what he thinks about her plans.
That's the setup, and the film plays out mostly how you'd expect. As I said, there's no new ground being broken here. But Cuadrado takes this familiar premise and executes it very, very well. And two of the biggest reasons that the film works as well as it does are Corri English and Tyler Mane. English is very approachable as a protagonist. Sam is empathetic and kind, but also strong and determined. The character's blindness doesn't come off as an exploitive tack on, as it easily could have. Her interactions with her co-workers are organic and natural. There is a hint of awkward dialogue here and there, but it's minor and ignorable. And Tyler Mane. Wow. He is an excellent villain. He exudes menace and power. When he's grabbing someone and throwing them across the room, or kicking open a door, we have no problem believing that he could do it. He really is that big and strong. And he's got the bitterness and anger of the character down pat. Which makes the final climax, which I won't reveal any more details of here, all the more satisfying.
While there are a few jump scares, of varying effectiveness, what really works for Devil May Call is the sustained tension. The audience knows that John is on his way well before Sam or her compatriots do, and the slow build up to his arrival, and then to his actual entry into their work area, is well controlled and frightening. The violence is realistic without being gory, and the plot does not depend on the utter stupidity of the characters. Devil May Call is not a masterpiece, or perfect, but it is a very solid thriller. Highly recommended.
"Monstrous Nature" Short Film
Composing the Score with Nicholas Pike
Devil May Call Trailer