This much we must credit to Devil's Whisper: it's certainly not a typical "the creepy old gewgaw has a demon attached" picture, no matter how much it shares the essential beats of one. It's a movie very much about religion, for one thing (which isn't quite the same as calling it a religious movie), which isn't the most common thing in horror movies; for another, that religious aspect manifests itself in the form of a teen boy, Alejandro "Alex" Duran (Luca Oriel), who is so enthusiastic about his impending Confirmation and all the good life advice he's been given by hip priest Father Cutler (Rick Ravanello), he's decided to dedicate his adolescence to readying himself for a life in the priesthood. Meaning no sex, no drinking and drugs, nothing more severe than sneaking into the R-rated Mad Max: Fury Road and then feeling utterly terrible about it later on.

Not a typical horror movie protagonist, nor a typical protagonist of any kind of movie, really; films about teens with that kind of religious zeal are rare enough, ones that aren't in any obvious way aimed at a fundamentalist audience are rarer. So that's enough to give Devil's Whisper some real kick that it wouldn't have had otherwise: any old horror movie can extract sympathy from watching a bright-eyed kid at the very cusp of life being tormented and brutalised, but a kid who actually, genuinely believe that the supernatural nastiness infecting his home represents a clear danger to his immortal soul and his mission of faith? No, that is new to me, and it's clever and crafty. Three cheers to screenwriters Oliver Robins & Paul Todisco, who concocted the scenario with director Adam Ripp; these are some genuinely fresh angles on musty material.

That being said, the execution of the film comes nowhere close to living up to that scenario. It's certainly not that Devil's Whisper is bad. In fact, it is perhaps surprising how not bad it is, given the low track record for low-budget horror and Exorcist knock-offs of any budget (and while this isn't an Exorcist knock-off precisely, it's certainly in that neighborhood). There was some proper money spent on the visual effects work, for one thing; the film's lanky, shadowy demon figure (seemingly derived from Slenderman of internet campfire story fame) looks infinitely better than there's any reason to hope for.

Beyond that, the film is... let us say that it is exemplary of films in this genre that cost about this much and are mostly shot in minimally redressed suburban homes. The big problem, as it frequently is, is in the acting; the cast is also not bad, but they're really not very good either. Oriel is fine, though the modulations in the character ask a bit more than he's capable of providing: Alex is a complicated figure, earnest and passionate in his religion but still a teen boy, and anxious to do the things teen boys do, no matter how much he sublimates all of his naughtier desires, particularly the one involving his attractive neighbor Lia (Jasper Polish). It's a role that asks for some nuance, and Oriel's not quite there; he's rather better when the hauntings start in earnest, and the make-up department helpfully provide him with heavy circles under his eyes and a generally gaunt face.

Beyond him, no-one in the supporting cast stands out; Tessie Santiago, playing Alex's mother Lucia, tends to have the most stilted, unconvincing line readings, but she's also stuck with all of the most stilted, unconvincing lines, flatly expositing the family's Dark History in ominous terms that are presumably meant to raise a spectre of mystery, but for the most part, it just comes across as a chain of half-formed clichés. And this is annoying enough, but at a certain point, one of those Dark Secrets that gets revealed is substantially too serious and grave for it to be entirely okay that it feels like a box has been ticked on the We Have Always Been Haunted By This Demon checklist.

Beyond that, the family group at the film's center - besides Alex and Lucia, there's also her husband Marcos (Marcos A. Ferraez), who I think is meant to be a cool stepdad, and little sister Alicia (Alison Fernandez) - never quite coheres. There's too much cutesiness in the writing, particularly around Alicia and her adorable squawking (which, naturally enough, sets up the moment when she goes all demon-like, as proudly displayed on the posters), and the actors inevitably feel like actors, not like people who have a level of comfort and relaxation around each other. Alex's friends are generally a bit better - it's basically just a bunch of idle, horny boys loafing around, which unsurprisingly doesn't represent much of an acting challenge - but they're not really the focus.

The arc of the film is a standard-issue haunting: once Alex and Marcos pop open the mysteriously sealed wooden box left by Lucia's late mother to find a handsome but foreboding crucifix, Alex starts to see horrible Somethings lurking in the shadows, and they eventually grow increasingly more front-and-center in their lurking. It's handled well enough; Ripp is good with pacing and atmosphere, or anyway better than he is with managing the family dynamic. And the featured demon is pretty cool to look at, no two ways about it. Still and all, this is boilerplate horror filmmaking, not at all painful but only rarely interesting. Alex, as conceived, is a fascinating character, one we virtually never see onscreen, and to see him plugged into such a paint-by-numbers plot, and with so little forcefulness in Oriel's performance or the way he's framed... it's damned disappointing, is all. So it is that the one thing which should most clearly stand out as a strength of the film turns out to be its most conspicuous shortcoming.