I I think it would be really fun to cast a child actor as a “weird little monster.” It can’t be fun casting child actors for literally any role other than that. Can you imagine the audition tapes you have to plod through. The unbearable seriousness of their polite little voices! Whispers of encouragement from off-screen parents! How strangely unconvincing children are when you ask them to play a “child”! No wonder the industry tried to squeeze out as many Macaulay Culkin movies as possible before puberty hit him. He was the only child who could ever play.
Either way, there’s a weird little boy in The Devil’s Hour (starting Friday, Prime Video) you’ll be glad to hear. He is truly awful. He still looks at nothing through the windows without blinking. Every time you hug him in the middle of the night, he says, “Mom, who is that man?” then you turn around, scared, and you don’t look at anything. All his teachers are afraid of him. His own father is afraid of him. He looks cold to the touch. It’s shaking too slowly to be normal in any way. I want him very far from me.
The Devil’s Hour has all the elements to be very, very good. Peter Capaldi is back in intense, unblinking mode, speaking with his lower teeth, where he is at his best. Jessica Raine does a superb job as Lucy, the buzzing center of it all: she plays all three roles of “haunted woman who keeps waking up at 3:33 a.m. from a recurring nightmare”, “boss firm but caring of the underfunded social services unit” and “mom of a horrible scary little goth boy”, and making each of them from a really interesting and charming new angle. Nikesh Patel’s first scene is that he makes the most unconvincing cigarette smoke I’ve ever seen, but then he starts to bite into the dense role they’ve created for him as a whiz detective with a grizzled Scottish partner.
There’s something complex and scary going on – shades of this first series of True Detective before the bad finale – and even the supporting actors in one scene have been well cast: every false lead they interrogate, every dead end they cross, is fun to watch unfold. People walk cautiously through rooms covered in man’s squiggles while holding a torch to see a photo of their own face. People come home to find this, hmm, that’s weird, I swear I locked that door before I left this morning. Time flows incorrectly. The visions continue to appear in bursts. Something is happening.
However, I can’t really say if it’s good or not. It’s mainly because The Devil’s Hour suffers from this curious trick that ambitious limited series on streaming platforms seem to like to play, which is “an incredibly steep drop from the first episode to the second.” The series opener is great – uptight and tense, playing with time and nightmare and good old-school horror tropes. It’s a clever little magic show (the domestic horror of Lucy’s job is just as terrifying as that weird little kid she has at home who knows everyone’s full names before she’s met them). We’ve seen “a detective is old and does it the old way, a detective is young and does it the new way” a hundred billion times before, but Nikesh Patel and Alex Ferns seem to be doing something new with this. It’s good.
And then: uh, episode two. Capaldi still hasn’t arrived yet. None of the keys have been returned to their lock. The fear with such a complex series is that none of the foundational work will ever lead to a satisfying reveal. As anyone who’s watched Westworld knows: as soon as the TV starts playing with time to hide important information from you, you have to worry.
Still, Halloween, isn’t it. When the leaves start turning red on the trees, all you can really think is: I just must see a scary little boy in pajamas walking stiffly through his own house in the middle of the night. Oh! Oh, honey, you scared me. Come on, let’s get you back to bed. Did you have a nightmare? What is it honey, I can’t hear you… Okay. I really wish you would stop hissing threats in the voice of an ancient, terrifying demon now. It’s really not nice. I’ve had enough with work and Peter Capaldi without you doing this too. Go to sleep, little monster.