I may be a tad biased towards films that work equally on celluloid as they would as a stage performance. It could be because I don’t go to the theater often and so I can kill two art birds with one 90 minute-sized stone. I tend to like pictures that take place within a very short time span where the setting is subjected to one or two locales and most character elements are observed and learned either through exposition, or stories being told about character history during the film’s downtime. The pictures are usually very small, but very focused when they’re done well; and The Devil’s Business is one done well.
A pair of hitmen have been hired to murder a man in his home late one night upon his return from an opera. The two killers are opposite ends of the paradigm with one being the experienced, cold veteran while the other a talkative, annoyingly inquisitive youngster out on his first hit job. While waiting patiently for their victim to arrive the two men trade stories, though hesitantly from the older gentleman who would much rather remain quiet, professional and enigmatic. While their at the home the two men hear a sound outside in the backyard they initially believe to be their target, only to come to find out after searching the grounds and discovering a dark tool shed that they may be in for something slightly more sinister than they signed up for.
The strength of The Devil’s Business is arguably its biggest problem depending on personal preference. As claimed before, the film could work equally as well as a stage play, meaning there’s a lot of dialogue in the film and it isn’t Tarantino-esque banter or discussion. The exchanges between the two leads aren’t necessarily entertaining, but they are interesting in the same way that a good ghost story by the campfire is interesting. In fact, one such story does arise in The Devil’s Business and the inclusion of the story works well to add to the darker atmosphere of the picture and even give a little insight to the emotional state of the lead, even though the story itself does little to progress the actual story forward.
I’m pretty sure I’ve also made another reference to House of the Devil in another review, but it oddly fits here as well. The Devil’s Business has a lot more going for it in the area of the unseen threat that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s that elongated waiting for something frightening to happen than the anticipation itself is the frightening thing you’re looking for. It’s noticeably intense without inducing the sweats or chair-clasping. It provides a strong, uncomfortable atmosphere and despite the production value appearing relatively low the performances carry it and keep it from feeling amateurish.
The film isn’t quite on the level to “must seek it out,” but it’s certainly in the grade of good if you like very slow-burn, dialogue-heavy horror pictures where the success is make-or-break on the performances. It isn’t an unforgettable viewing experience, but it’s certainly a safe recommendation as something worthwhile. You probably won’t see it on a top-ten list, but there’s enough about it that warrants an initial viewing that will most likely plant a seed of intrigue to revisit again when you hear about it a couple years after forgetting all about it, remember liking it [enough], but can’t remember why.
The Upside: Good performances, a well-structured storyline and a script that manages to be talkative without veering into dullness
The Downside: Nothing about it is particularly exceptional and is therefore relegated to that nasty “It’s certainly better than moderately good, but I don’t know if it’s really, really good” middle ground. It also isn’t a horror film that can easily appeal to all horror tastes. That could be construed as a strength, though.