Every now and then in the film industry, there will be an instance where two very similar projects find themselves competing against one another at the box office. Deep Impact was decimated by Armageddon, despite being the superior movie. Dante’s Peak took on Volcano, and again the less thoughtful, much sillier movie came out on top. Twin sky diving actioners Drop Zone and Terminal Velocity also went head to head, except this time nobody cared. Kevin Costner, in an act of incomparable movie cock-blocking, managed two such occurrences, his horrible take on the Robin Hood legend laying waste to Patrick Bergin’s offering, whilst his western epic Wyatt Earp fell foul of Kurt Russell’s more entertaining approach in Tombstone. When Sean Hogan first conceived of The Devil’s Business, a very British hitman drama and satanic horror hybrid, I don’t imagine for a second he’d have expected to compete with a rival movie combining precisely those elements. Unfortunately for Hogan, Ben Wheatley’s astonishing and widely celebrated cult horror Kill List appeared just as his own movie was due for release, and the release of The Devil’s Business was delayed while the dust settled.
The story is, for the most part, incredibly slight. Two bickering hitmen lay in wait at their victim’s home. Pinner (Billy Clarke) is the grumbling veteran, Cully (Jack Gordon) his loud mouthed protégé, taking on his first job. As they await the arrival of their mysterious victim Kist (Jonathan Hansler), the pair discover a terrifying and deadly secret beyond their understanding.
The opening stretch of The Devil’s Business is its most successful by far, an air of tension and foreboding gathering nicely as the pair explore their target’s home. The interplay between the two leads is fitfully amusing, Clarke may be a little wooden as Pinner, but Gordon ably takes up the slack as Cully, and there’s an enjoyably spiky back and forth between the grumpy veteran and his bumbling, mouthy student. Unfortunately, as the pair’s intended victim arrives home and the film begins its move into horror territory, the cracks start to show. Everything that occurs from this point onwards is ineffective at best, plain daft at its worst, every ounce of tension that Hogan has built so far simply dissolves. I don’t want to go into details and spoil the mystery, but suffice to say it’s rather hokey, filled with lousy dialogue and very poorly acted, making me unexpectedly grateful for the incredibly slight 70 minute running time. The very worst that The Devil’s Business has to offer is saved for its ridiculous final moments, where a film that had been happy to leave much to the viewer’s imagination loses the plot entirely with an utterly dreadful twist and some make up FX that renders the conclusion laughable.
Comparisons with Kill List are perhaps unfair, but also unavoidable. Wheatley’s movie destroys Hogan’s in every respect, atmosphere, performances, dialogue, characters, direction, the lot, it’s pretty much an abject failure. If you’ve seen Kill List already and are tempted by The Devil’s Business, just watch Kill List again, even on repeat viewings it has more to offer than this uninspired effort.
Director: Sean Hogan
Writer: Sean Hogan
Stars: Billy Clarke, Jack Gordon, Jonathan Hansler
Runtime: 69 min