The Devil’s Carnival [Movie review by Jori]

The Devil's Carnival56 min., 2012
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
My rating:  ***
IMDBOfficial Site

A stunning display of eye candy with substance.

* * *

What do you get when you combine an explosion of color, music, and performance?  This.  Terrance Zdunich & Darren Lynn Bousman combine into a super duo to bring us a dark take on Aesop’s Fables, while tricking us into humming along and smiling all the way through.

John (Sean Patrick Flanery), Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan) and Tamara (Jessica Lowndes) all find their way to hell, where they are forced to re-enact their individual “sins” – except it looks awesome.  The Devil himself (writer Terrance Zdunich) seems to be less menacing, as he serves to teach them a lesson.  Until you realize there is a war about to happen and you’ll probably be rooting for hell.

Visually, this is an absolutely stunning film.  The detail in even the tiniest backdrop, even the costuming for the extras, lend a very rich ambiance.  It truly feels like a real carnival, there is so much cool stuff you can’t stop looking every which way.  The costuming is outstanding, it feels authentic and true.  The make-up is a perfect match, complementing the outlandish outfits without stealing the scene.  It is so surreal, and yet it makes absolute sense for the story.  I can’t envision it looking any other way.

With a surprising cast, it works almost perfectly.  Bill Moseley as the magician, Nivek Ogre as the twin, Alexa Vega as Wick and Paul Sorvino as God are all Repo! alums.  (If you remember, Repo! had odd casting choices as well – with Paris Hilton among others.)  The casting seems so bizarre – Marc Senter! Ivan Moody! Shawn Crahan!  But bizarre works in its favor.  Senter, who was every sort of wrong for the part in The Lost, fits his character perfectly.  Even the plastic hair didn’t look ridiculous, he matched it perfectly.  The even bigger surprise however is that Senter can sing.  I mean he can sing well.  (I think he missed his calling!)  Emilie Autumn as the painted doll is captivating.  She is absolutely mesmerizing and you never want to look away.  But then!  She sings!  And how incredible it is to hear such a sweet sound coming from that beautifully ugly face.  Only Jessica Lowndes could rival Ms. Autumn’s beauty – a very different type of beauty that is no less stunning.  Dayton Callie as the ticket keeper holds everything together – he comes in at the exact right moment to bring things down a notch.  With all the outlandishness happening, it is a comfort to have him take charge and calm everything down.

As someone who enjoys musicals, I do feel there were a few missteps.  Giving too much screen time to Briana Evigan, who is a mediocre singer at best, and essentially robbing the audience of a better performance by Ogre (a professional singer!) was a let down.  While the purpose of the twin is that he morphs into you, I really think they should have picked a better singer – or at the very least had them morph more often so that Ogre could take over with his voice.  Zdunich, while perfect for the role of the Devil, is another incredible singer who was criminally underused.  Zdunich’s voice is so smooth, it has a certain sex appeal that should have been showcased more.  We don’t even get a good sense of Lownde’s singing prowess until the credits – in one of the best songs of the entire film.  Her duet with Zdunich was my favorite.  Flanery does a decent job, but considering he is supposed to be the main plot element, he is constantly overshadowed by everybody else.  (I almost forgot about him!)

For a short film, this was packed with everything wonderful.  Meant as a trilogy, this sets the stage for a war between Heaven and Hell.  As a stand alone film, it is already great.  Using a twisted sense of dark beauty to convey some of Aesop’s more popular fables is exciting.  Because you know the story – but do you really?  While I adore this film, there is just a nagging feeling that won’t leave me alone.  This is certainly not Repo! and making that comparison already tarnishes it for me, if only just a tiny bit.

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About Jori

Being a stubborn girl, Jori insisted on watching scary movies as a little girl and proclaiming "I'm not scared!" from behind her oma's rocking chair. Much sleep was lost in the early years due to paralyzing fear, and her uncle Albert deserves a special mention for unwittingly showing her Monkey Shines. Jori spends her adult life trying to recapture that initial feeling of terror that she experienced as a child. Follow her on Twitter at @fvjori.
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