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The Devil’s Chair (2007)
Andrew Howard, who played a similarly villainous role in the I Spit On Your Grave remake, here stars as smarmy Nick West, who as the film opens is dropping acid and investigating an abandoned asylum with his girlfriend. They discover the titular contraption – a device that when activated opens a doorway to a hellish dimension and whisks away whoever is unlucky enough to be sitting in it. Nick’s girlfriend tries it out, goes bye-bye and Nick is left high (literally) and dry, with a story that isn’t very believable. He finds himself soon in another asylum – only this time one that is working and fully staffed. Years later, Nick appears to be recovering and to have gained back some grasp on reality – so naturally psychiatrist, Dr. Willard (David Gant) decides it is time to return to the old asylum and suss out what really happened. I really admired the way the story was set up and how it initially unfolded – the doctor gathering his colleagues and the return to the asylum with Nick, felt very Legend of Hell House-y. It was very well done and full of potential. Unfortunately as soon as the group arrives at the asylum the film goes off the rails.
Nick provides a stream of consciousness narration during the course of the film – at times it seems as if he is speaking directly to the audience – and the monologues have some flashes of wit, but for the most part the voice overs seem a little too pleased with their cleverness, which makes the film feel self-satisfying and unappealing smug – of course you have to take into consideration the character who is relaying the tale to us and what type of person he is. I wouldn’t call this an “enjoyable” film – any hints that it may be develop into a fun little supernatural jaunt are quickly and efficiently dashed.
I will say (venturing here into spoiler territory) that this is one of those “it was all in their head” films – the majority of what we see on screen never actually transpires and only in the few final minutes do we get a glimpse of the “reality” of the situation. It is a serious sucker punch and even if you saw it coming still manages to be disturbingly gruesome and jarring. But I wanted to know more of what was behind Nick’s madness – yes, I know it is almost always more frightening when we don’t know what motivates the monster, but when the script so thoroughly stages the entire experience from Nick’s point of view and entrenches us so firmly in his mind from the first frame – well, I expect something a little more than just some post-modern spewage. The character of Nick – and the film itself – goes to such lengths to mislead us – but what of the time we had invested in the manufactured narrative? It seems a disservice for all that to be revealed as a mere ploy, no matter how well played and especially considering how flippantly Nick reveals the truth. It is one of the better “it was all in their head” films but it is also undeniably manipulative and the cumulative effect is one of disappointment rather than awe. These type of stories are only truly successful when something is gained from the deception – there seems to be no real reason for it here, aside from the “We tricked you! Look what we did!” angle.
The Devil’s Chair isn’t a complete disaster and isn’t without merit, but it left me feeling ungratified and cheaply fooled. A good use of music, some interesting creature effects, a superbly intense and unnerving performance from Andrew Howard, a brutal and harrowing ending – but mostly all for naught. C+