The story of murdering carnival workers during the Depression has plenty of style, but its aesthetic may not jive with everyone.
PLOT: Traces a family of murderous sideshow performers as it travels around the world on the dying carnival circuit.
REVIEW: I feel it needs to be stated right off the bat that Where the Devil Roams will not be for everybody. From a production standpoint, it feels very amateur at points. The blown-out sky and awkward sound design certainly point to this being more student film than major feature. But even still, there’s a beauty to the cinematography, as well as the awkward performances. You’re either going to be turned off by it or along for the ride. I can’t imagine there being much “in-between” when it comes to such a polarizing style of film.
John Adams, Toby Poser, and Zelda Adams all serve as the writers, directors, and stars of Where the Devil Roams, and that fact alone should be commended. Not very often do you see a Trifecta in film, let alone one that’s a family. They split up duties well here and even portray the family of carnival workers at the film’s forefront. Because of this, there’s a chemistry amongst them where there appears to be a shorthand amongst them. This works to add some realism to the proceedings as it can be kind of hard to get your barring. There is very little about this film that would be considered “conventional.”
Set in the Depression Era, Where the Devil Roams follows a family of carnival performers on the road. They murder people along the way but they always have each other’s backs. They’re an odd bunch that will no quicker murder you than they would look at you. Zelda Adams is the real star, providing a subtle yet haunting performance. Her angelic features really make the cinematography stand out even more. And while I did enjoy Toby Poser in some scenes, she mostly felt uneven.
One of the weaker aspects of the film is the sound design. Often voices don’t sound right with their placement and sound effects don’t leave nearly enough of an impression. The violence can be pretty gruesome at points, with all of the effects being done practically. But the lesser foley work makes it so they don’t leave quite as much of an impression as they could. After one particularly brutal act, I felt the tension lessened because I knew the violence wouldn’t leave an impact. It’s a case of the imagination coming up with these horrible things, only for the execution to be middling.
I was really mixed on the use of upbeat rock music at first but I found myself warming up to it by the film’s end. It clashes in an interesting way with the setting, in what could have otherwise been forgettable music of the time. If you’ve seen the trios’ prior film Hellbender, then you likely know the style of movie they’re making. So if that’s for you then you’re probably going to enjoy yourself with Where the Devil Roams. But if you’re expecting a well-polished Hollywood film, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed because this is anything but. This is indie and raw and hits a nerve that only films of its ilk can. And that’s what makes them so damn important to cinema as a whole. So while it may be rough around the edges, I’ll take a movie with Soul any day.
WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS had its World Premiere at FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2023 and will premiere on TUBI this winter.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/where-the-devil-roams-fantasia-review/