When two hitmen – Pinner (Billy Clarke), the ornery professional whose many years service have done a lot to weigh down his conscience, and Cully (Jack Gordon), his nervy apprentice who doesn’t think a season ticket to the football and a weekend shag is too much to ask for – break into a country house and wait patiently for their victim to return home from the opera, things don’t go quite as expected. Cully asks Pinner if he’s got any stories to pass the time, and Pinner obliges with a campfire tale that stands Cully’s hair on end. And then, from bad to worse, a sudden noise prompts them to investigate the garage where they discover a satanic altar and, very close by, something extremely horrible indeed. And that’s just the start of their nightmare. 

‘The Devil’s Business’ is a nastily compact 75 minute descent into the heart of darkness, taking Pinner and Cully on a beautifully structured collision course towards ultimate evil. Billy Clarke is a revelation as Pinner. Already a familiar face from movies like Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’, his quiet intensity in the lead role is devastating. As the two men sit in semi-darkness and Pinner tells Cully his ghost story – an eleven-minute monologue which is a tour de force of both acting and writing – it’s immediately obvious that this movie is going to be something quite brave and very special. Most film makers would bottle a sequence like that and serve up an awkward flashback with Pinner’s narration playing above it, but not Director / Writer Sean Hogan. He just keeps his camera on Pinner’s face and lets his words and Billy Clarke’s performance cast their spell. 

While Billy Clarke proves what a capable leading man he is, Jack Gordon also gives an excellent turn as Cully whose false bravado at the start of the story makes his unravelling when things go wrong even more effective. And then there’s Jonathan Hansler as Kist, a character who is at first described as a kind of Aleister Crowley wannabe but who has far bigger tricks up his sleeve than a dodgy altar and a badly chalked pentagram. It’s a part that could have descended into caricature, but Hansler purrs through his scenes like a demonic lounge lizard and has some of the funniest, blackest lines in the script.  Harry Miller is the final member of the cast, playing the crime boss who sends Pinner and Cully after Kist because he wants something returned that, well, isn’t Kist’s to give back. Saying any more would give the game away, and you’ll really want to stay with this game until the end. 

Sean Hogan understands the psychology of terror and the mechanics of telling a good horror story.  His writing is lean but densely packed and beautifully observed and his direction reminded me of the best early Polanski with a twist of Argento and an unconscious nod towards Nic Roeg and ‘Don’t Look Now’. Although the film was shot quickly and on a very limited budget, none of those shortcomings are apparent on screen and his DP Nicola Marsh does some exceptional work behind the camera. 

I went into ‘The Devil’s Business’ with some reservations. I’m not the biggest fan of London gangland-meets-Faustian horror (I probably shouldn’t admit this, but ‘Kill List’ left me cold… and not in a good way), and the Satanic subplot and relatively short running time brought back the worst memories of old ‘Hammer House of Horror’ episodes. But I was wrong, and I knew I was wrong because I was still thinking about ‘The Devil’s Business’ the very next day and thinking how cool it is that movies like this one, by talented film makers who have a genuine love and respect for the genre, are still being made. 

Go see it. You’ll only feel guilty if you don’t. And, as Pinner finds out, guilt can eventually take you to some very bad places.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white