Of course, the first thing that came to mind was a song, originally by Steve Earle on his album Copperhead Road, covered by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings amongst others. But that’s The Devil’s Right Hand; The Devil’s Left Hand is a straight up possession thriller from director Harley Wallen, who also features here as an actor. Wallen marked himself out as a talent to watch with last year’s Ash and Bone, a backwoods horror that was light of gore and instead offered up more characterisation than might be expected from a genre film, and The Devil’s Left Hand similarly does well to deliver unease on a tight indie budget.
We jump straight in with a New Orleans séance gone wrong; Vesna (Aphrodite Nikolovski) is supposedly in charge, but starts talking in a sinister deep voice. The friends gathered are shocked to find that a demon has come through to torment them. ‘The dead can’t lie’ one character notes, but they can mess with your head, and that’s particularly worrying for Richie (Kris Reilly) and Cassidy (Kaiti Wallen). Ritchie shot his own father when he was 10, defending his mother Sharon (Lauren Landon) who is now confined to a hospital bed, and he fears that the séance has left the door open for his dead father (Yan Birch) to return.
I didn’t see 2019’s Agramon’s Gate, but looking at the trailer, it’s the same film repackaged under a different title here. Gnarly hands reach out from under the couch, grasping for the ankles as Richie and his friends try to figure out who is possessing who; the closest analogy for the film would be the mutual suspicion featured in several version of The Thing. Waller has a significant role himself as paranormal expert Zeb, and his film has a nice line in humour; when Ritchie grabs a baseball bat to defend himself against an unknown assailant, his girlfriend suggests his stance would be appropriate ‘in case someone throws you a baseball…’ There’s also a few strange lines; it’s fine that Zeb should offer up some kind of holy spear to help resolve the situation, but his assertion that the same weapon was used to ‘kill Dracula’ seems open to a few questions.
‘There’s too many layers for most to push through,’ someone remarks of the protective layer that protects the characters in The Devil’s Left Hand from their demonic opposition, but push through we do. Waller bats better than most when it comes to subtle use of effects, plus robust character and an original story, and leans into genre expectations by casting Landon, something of a Larry Cohen veteran from It’s Alive 3, two Maniac Cop films, and the classic hardboiled action flick I, The Jury. Cohen is one of the great names of indie film, and Waller clearly has the right kind of grounded talent to follow in his footsteps. The Devil’s Left Hand doesn’t resolve any issues about the ambidextrousness of Auld Nick, but it’s better than average genre fare for addicts looking for something new.