Along Came the Devil’s woes are apparent before the film even begins; originally titled Tell Me Your Name – a line repeated often in its exorcism climax – the change of name suggests a cynical, exploitation film attempt to attract audiences looking for a generic possession-centric horror film.
Well, at least those audiences won’t be disappointed – Along Came the Devil is definitely that.
Red flags continue with the films’ clumsy opening exposition. White on black intertitles inform us that “since the mysterious loss of their mother, Sarah, Young Ashley and her older sister Jordan, have lived a troubled childhood with their abusive father.” Once you get past the grammatical errors (why is there a comma after Jordan? Why is Young capitalised?), the prose isn’t even functional, heavily implying that there are three sisters – Sarah, “Young” Ashley and Jordan – when in fact, Sarah is the mother’s name. This fact is important (for reasons left unclear until the film’s ending, if you can call it that), but delivered so confusingly that you have to reread the four paragraphs of exposition a couple times before it even makes sense.
You would assume that Jordan – who prominently features in said exposition, as someone who “has always tried to protect Ashley from the dark side of Sarah’s memory” – would similarly play a large part in the film that follows. You’d be wrong! In fact, the only time we see Jordan is in an opening prologue, where she (Kyla Deaver) and her sister (played as a prepubescent by Lia McHugh) are terrorised by their inexplicably-heavily-English-accented father (they’re both American). Equally perplexing about the intertitle introduction is that a line about a “dark force that haunted [their mother] Sarah” heavily telegraphs Along Came the Devil’s intended ‘twist’ ending.
All of this is to say, Along Came the Devil is almost certainly the result of a troubled production, presumably involving budget woes. It’s a film where a catastrophic car crash is conveyed with a cut to black and stock audio, where dialogue revolves around the first day of school for Ashley (now played by Sydney Sweeney) yet we don’t see a single scene set in a school. The ending is the film’s most egregious error, culminating with a graceless jump scare, a cut to credits, and the enduring sense that the film ended at this point because the producers simply ran out of money.
There are suggestions here that maybe things could’ve been salvageable. Sweeney is an engaging lead, navigating the labyrinthine emotions demanded by the screenplay and generally possessing a magnetic screen presence. (Previously I’ve criticised writers using ‘screen presence’ as a euphemism for hot; guilty as charged, here, I’m afraid!) Cinematographer Justin Duval disguises the film’s miniscule budget with handsome, if unexceptional, compositions.
But it’d be a mistake to lay all the blame for Along Came the Devil’s at the feet of behind-the-scenes troubles – troubles that I’m only inventing after extrapolating from the end product, after all. The script, from director Jason DeVan and his wife Heather DeVan (with a story credit for Dylan Matlock), is as confused as the film’s opening exposition. Initially the film bubbles with scepticism towards the occult and Christian alike – rare in the exorcism genre, given the requirement for acceptance of a very Old Testament kind of Christianity – but transforms into full-bore Church cheerleading by the midpoint. The earliest manifestation of Ashley’s demonic nature is ‘sluttiness’ – think low cut tops, an interesting in (gasp!) kissing her would-be-boyfriend – and the third act is basically a recreation of The Exorcist’s, revolving around a pair of heroic priests: one young, one old. Originality is not this film’s strong suit.
People who flocked to The Snowman last year, expecting – and receiving – the kind of trainwreck that we don’t see very often nowadays would do well to check out Along Came the Devil. Had everything gone to play, I suspect the end product would’ve been an utterly generic exorcism thriller, defined by unimaginative jump scares and grotesque make-up. While the film we ended up with is undeniably worse than that hypothetical film, its fascinating in its ineptitude, which I regard as a net positive. Consider picking this up for your next bad movie night, if that’s something you’re into.