This horrific Brit miniature offers a Pinter-esque allegory for our troubled economic times.
The economic gloom which followed the 2007 Credit Crunch has taught the West a simple, uncomfortable lesson: after a prosperous period of entering dodgy deals and incurring rash debts, eventually someone has to pay.
It's a theme ripe for the confronting unease of horror, and so in 2011 three excellent British films were made – Ben Wheatley's Kill List, Cristian Solimeno's yet-to-be-released The Glass Man and Sean Hogan's The Devil's Business – which used Faustian pacts of sorts to address the devilish disillusionment brought about by recession.
Like Kill List, writer/director Hogan's feature concerns a pair of hitmen having to reap the bitter fruit of their immoral contract work. Yet The Devil's Business is a lean chamber piece, confined mostly to the interiors (and occasionally exteriors) of a single cottage, and stripped down to an economic 75 minutes in duration.
Yet even if the barebones minimalism of this downsized film is a consequence of the production's own budgetary realities, it also serves to signify the belt-tightening strictures of our era, while bringing the film's diabolical drama into sharp focus.
Veteran triggerman Pinner (Billy Clarke) and his young, inexperienced ward Cully (Jack Gordon) break into a rural home at night, awaiting the return of owner Kist (Jonathan Hansler) whom their gangland boss Bruno (Harry Miller) wants dead, with no questions asked.
As midnight approaches, Pinner keeps the nervous Cully entertained with an eerie story about a previous hit that he had – also unquestioningly – carried out on a beautiful dancing girl. But before he can finish, a sound outside draws them to a horrific sacrificial altar in the garage, and they are made to realise that in this business, there can be no backing down from the choices they have made.
The relatively short running time, small cast, limited domestic setting and intense dramatic performances all lend this Pinteresque morality play a claustrophobic tautness, as well as a tangible intimacy. For the most part it is a talky two-hander, although its many words are carefully chosen and expertly delivered.
In the end, of course, there are also plenty of Satanic trappings, but they are used not just for the sake of genre, but to reflect the ethical make-up of the human characters here, as well as to allegorise the sort of irresponsible business conduct which has recently put everyone into unwelcome debt.
When Cully wonders aloud whether, in ambushing and murdering Kist, he and Pinner are 'doing the right thing', the older assassin reminds his naïve apprentice that 'a job's a job' and 'sometimes you just have to let bad people go.'
Yet in fact everyone here has their place in the hierarchical corporate structure, and Kist himself, like Pinner and Cully, is just 'an employee who's trying to rise through the ranks, kissing the right arses, making the odd sacrifice – the company man walking the company line'. It is, of course, the man at the very top of the criminal chain who will always in the end demand his due.
In every enterprise, it would seem, the devil is in the details – and in this modest but resonant film, Hogan gets those just right.
The Devil's Buzz-iness.
This hitman horror pays its debts in fine writing and nuanced performances.