The Devil’s Business is an Independent British psychological Horror film written & Directed by Sean Hogan who also made 2010’s impressive portmanteau horror flick Little Deaths. The film centres around two very different Hit men, career professional Pinner (Billy Clarke) and jittery newbie Cully (Jack Gordon) as they both wait impatiently at night in the living room of their ominous target, Mr. Kist (Jonathan Hansler), who both men have been hired to kill by their shifty boss Bruno (Harry Miller). All seems to be going to plan as they pass the time awaiting Kist’s arrival, their at odd’s personalities of young and Old clashing, but after Pinner lets Cully in on an old tale regarding his past the mood seems to change. Both men begin to be paranoid and unsettled by their surroundings leading to a grisly discovery hinting at Mr. Kist’s involvement in the Dark arts of Witchcraft. Pinner and Cully soon become very uneasy with the job at hand and begin to question who Kist really is and why Bruno wants him out of the picture.
The Devil’s Business is another film in the small but very much alive sub genre of horror films involving Hit men and the occult. Following Ben Wheatley’s fantastic Kill List, Sean Hogan’s menacingly effective suspensor only really falls short by comparison to Wheatley’s film and it’s smaller budget, which probably add to the reasons of why it went a little unnoticed by many publications and film goers. In fact this and Kill List both played at 2011’s Fright Fest and both received much acclaim when presented, but it was Wheatley’s film which garnered more attention, getting picked up and released first to brilliant reviews. This may forever leave The Devil’s Business in the same spot occupied by Mimi Ledar’s Deep Impact, Milos Forman’s Valmont and Douglas McGrath’s Infamous. Films which are credible in their own right, but lost attention due to interesting yet different takes on similarly plotted films which came out not long before them, hit well at the Box office and were perhaps more pleasing to the eye with both audiences and critics alike.
Even though Kill List is a better film, (If you haven’t seen it please do, there was no finer horror film of 2011) Devil’s Business is a very good and effective companion piece to it, but really apart from the obvious concepts isn’t much like Kill List at all. This film takes a more Pinteresque approach to a rather similar theme, it relies on the conversation and playful humour enacted by its two main characters, who bounce off each other well enough to evoke both hair-raising tension and a Rigsby and Allan (from Rising Damp) like bond with the two men from a different time with opposing ideals but both tarred with the same brush.
The dialogue and performances from Clarke and Gordon are near faultless (even if Hansler’s Mr. Kist is a little too Roger Moore for my liking), both men occupy the screen for almost all of the films slender run time (69 mins) and have the tough task of giving us likable yet mysteriously confused characters who both loosen up and develop in personality as the film opens up during this short but forebodingly twisty hit. The theatre like style in which the film is shot and the common as muck characters edge it more towards a Kitchen sink horror in the vein of Mike Leigh does The Omen and evokes Hitchcock’s wonderfully menacing 1940’s thriller Rope. All of this opposing to Kill List’s more folk horror style reminiscent of 70’s cult witchcraft shockers The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw, which like Wheatley’s film display ambiguous forms of Witchcraft and the Occult in a physically absurdist and artistic fashion which, The Devils Business only slightly hints at with it becoming more radical (probably a bad choice) near the film’s climax.
The film isn’t exactly scary more, incredibly tense in a foreboding sort of way. It is incredible how much tension is built by simple conversation, reactions from the two leads and the daunting score by newcomer Justin Greaves, which definitely saves the film from what could have easily been a two part evening ITV thriller. Unfortunately the picture’s micro budget holds it back from delivering on the truly horrific images it so desperately wants to show. This is probably the point where the film shows its true weakness when it’s forced to display a late hammy scare which looks more like a physically unappealing nod to Nic Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now, rather than a truly terrifying climax. It brings unneeded attention to the fact that the film was shot independently through necessity rather than it being a clever choice by Hogan. To make a truly effective little horror on this budget, which could run its length and deliver true tension, the art of suspense and well spaced scares with a sparse setting, interesting characters and small talk of witchcraft alone would be the best method to employ.
Overall, The Devil’s Business is a good Horror film that is effective and suspenseful enough to qualify as one of this year’s finer and more interesting films in horror. However it’s also a film that wanted to be so much more and could have been with a slightly better budget, more backing and a less unfortunate comparison to a similarly superior counterpart.