Film Review: Devil's Domain

High-school horror is a genre unto itself, and desperately insecure, bulemic cutter Lisa Pomson is trapped in what becomes a literally hellish version in this formulaic movie.
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The troubles for San Bernardino, CA teen Lisa Pomson (Madi Vodane) begin…well, actually who knows when they began—perhaps when her harried, on-her-last-nerve mom, Carol (Kelly Erin Decker, also one of the film's producers), married gruff, rough-around-the-edges Bill (Michael Madsen). That's always tough on children of divorce, though ultimately Lisa's stepdad proves to be a pretty decent guy who's commendably willing to try to understand the emotional squalls that buffet high-school girls. In any event, Lisa's quotidian misery turned toxic when she misinterpreted her best friend Rhonda's (Brenna Tucker) touchy-feely girl-bonding as a sexual overture and overnight the school mean girls branded her a fat lesbian and all-around disgusting pig, a true suburban untouchable.

Lisa retreats to her ’70s/’80s-themed bedroom (her favorite bands/artists appear to include Iggy Pop, The Vibrators and The New York Dolls), where she obsessively pinches nonexistent rolls of fat, binges and purges and admits only lifelong friend-next-door Andrew (Zack Kozlow). He promptly betrays her by planting video cameras in her bedroom and bathroom; their streaming online feeds only add to her shame. It's no wonder that Lisa is vulnerable to the blandishments of sympathetic online hottie Destiny Lucin (Linda Bella), who promises a taste of rough justice for Lisa's tormentors. But once the mean girls start dying, Lisa has some serious personal inventorying to do.

Is this a tone-deaf horror movie about teenage insecurity (I'm sorely tempted to call it "Lisa and the Devil's Daughter") and the toxic potential of social media or is it a Christian scare film? I'm honestly not sure, since the plot hinges on both the outrageous over-punishment of high-school bitches on behalf of a girl who's depicted as little more than the sum total of her epic unhappiness, and the suggestion that straight-up demons are prowling the Internet in search of souls to soil. Social-media trolling and reality-TV inanity also get the good smacks they richly deserve, but let's face it—not news to anyone.

New York City-born writer-director Jared Cohn is nothing if not industrious: He's written and/or directed and/or produced and/or acted in more than a dozen films in less than a decade, and to be fair, Devil's Domain is competently made. But its depiction of bullying is pretty familiar stuff; even if it was inspired by a true story of cyber-bullying, as Cohn has claimed, Carrie (both novel and film) hit the same notes 40+ years ago. And some of the film's details are just odd, not in a good way, particularly its conception of the devil—to say much more would be a serious spoiler (even allowing for the fact that much of the makeup is revealed in the poster) but it has nasty psychosexual undertones—and how its boneheaded teen boys choose the term "she-male" to taunt a classmate whose sole crime is some vaguely new-wave fashion choices (again with the ’80s).

On the plus side, kudos to Cohn for casting Madsen against type; he's a off-kilter bright spot in a film otherwise so predictable that it seems far longer than its 93-minute runtime. Ditto the "In memory of" dedication to rock guitarist Roye Albrighton, who died in 2016, even if Devil's Domain's key demographic is even less likely to have heard of the ’70s prog-rock band Nektar than of Lisa's big ’80s idols.

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