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To Hell and Back for LO(ve) | review

Lo was a movie I went into with no expectations. The description said it was about a man who summons a demon to find his girlfriend, who has been dragged to hell.  That was enough for me.

If I were any less of a film nerd than I am, I probably would not have stuck with this movie. It is…small.  It could easily be a play–not that it’s performed like one, the way Dogville was, precisely, but the main set is a black room with an occult chalk circle illuminated, and the only breaks from this are “flashbacks” that ARE shown to one side of the main set like mini-plays.  Personally, I had no problem with the staging because it represented the situation well:  Justin had summoned a demon and was sitting with it on some plane in between Hell and Earth. There wasn’t anything to see, and the focus was meant to be on the characters.

Justin, as promised, summoned the demon Lo to help him find April, who was dragged away by a demon.  Lo begrudges the obedience he must give this human–as the demon puts it, “While that may be loosely tru [that I must obey you], I don’t have to respect you.”  Their interactions become a struggle of wills and a test of Justin’s faith.  He knows Lo will seek to trick him; the question is whether he can correctly identify the trick before he loses his own soul right along with April’s….

Let me say first, that I really liked this movie. I don’t know that it was meant to be heartbreaking, but I found it impossibly Romantic and a really great Impossible Love scenario.  It is probably a minor spoiler to admit that I cried for like 10 minutes after it was over.  Something about the nature of the impossibility when you realize had really happened, just got me.  The final scene between Lo and Justin was haunting.

Aside from liking how the story played out, I thought it was a good production overall, especially for something obviously small-budget.  The acting was fine, the make-up and costumes on the various demons was really fabulous, and the film had a definite artistic quality to it, especially in how the flashbacks were filmed and staged.  The artsiness might have been a bit self-conscious, but the film pulled it off so it became a high point instead of a detraction.  Those scenes also broke up what would otherwise have been an unbearably monotonous set and kept the film visually interesting even when the original black stage with the pentagram returned.

The movie is also rather funny, especially in the beginning.  You see what kind of mood the film wants to set within a minute, as Justin is preparing to summon the demon and knocks over a candle and forgets ingredients for the spell.  And once Lo appears, his mockery of Justin and humanity made me laugh.  Lo was a witty demon.

As far as the unravelling of the story went, I appreciated that the movie left some things unsaid and used the demon to mock Justin when he pointed out the obvious, so that even as it kept the audience up to speed and on the same page, the film made fun of itself for clarifying revelations.  I also appreciated that it played with my vague memories of fae and demon lore–never believe a demon because they are always trying to trick you, never eat anything in Hell, etc.–and helped me feel Justin’s confusion at the many, many different things being said to him in that place.  Whenever anything seemed predictable, it was in a context of having been done so many times it was almost unpredictable again, if that makes sense.

Justin, in the end, makes a great hero, even if he starts off as an unlikely one, because we get to see the depths of his stubbornness and resolution, all borne out of love for April.  He represents what is both flawed and beautiful in humanity:  our ability to love, and our ability to make mistakes.

I find myself looking back askance at this movie, because it really was just an odd little film and a strange little story.  But I also really enjoyed it and was in the end profoundly affected by it.  I would recommend to those of you who like arthouse films, strange love stories, impossible love stories, black comedies, and supernatural tricksters.

By Elena Nola

Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.