The Review: It’s always hard reviewing film. Knowing that, as good as a movie is, at some point for all the positives you have to talk about the negatives and what didn’t work. Knowing that in some cases the creators put years of work into the film , your job often sees you tearing that apart…
Well then imagine how much these feelings are compounded when you know the person who made said film, even worse than that… once, ever two weeks or so, you talk to them, entertain with them and create a podcast alongside them. Well I can tell you that makes reviewing their movie an awkward affair. Unless, of course, that person happens to be Martin Scorsese. So it’s with great fear and trepidation that I lined up The Devils Bargain from Filmsploitation’s own co-host’s Drew Cullingham AND Andrew MacKay to review on the eve of it’s digital release.
The Story: It’s 1974 and Earth is about to be obliterated by a massive asteroid. Adi (Jonnie Hurn) and his young wife Ange (Chloe Farnworth), haunted by memories of the death of their son, journey to the idyllic rural setting where he was conceived, determined to shed clothes, inhibitions and psychological traumas before the planet is destroyed forever. But the arrival of Luca (Dan Burman), a charismatic and mysterious young photographer, turns what’s left of their world upside-down and the horror to come is of biblical proportions.
To be honest I always knew Drew the filmmaker learnt towards the more ‘artistic’ side of the coin rather than my home, the commercial, and after watching the trailer, which soon brought memories of my experience watching the equally obscure and esoteric A Field In England last year (of which I lasted just over an hour before I gave up), I was sure an awkward conversation of polite ‘Yeah that was… er… good’ would follow suit.
Thankfully I was wrong. The Devils Bargain is a damn interesting film. And I’m not using “interesting” as I search for other ways to say “not my cup of tea” or “insert polite comment here”… no I mean” interesting: as is, er interesting. It may be flawed (considering the vision at play and the creative constraints upon it however this is to be a little expected) but director Cullingham delivers what is by far the most unique film have seen in a long time and, unlike the aforementioned A Field In England, I actually watched it… no enjoyed it… to the very end.
So let’s get the ‘uncomfortable’ bit out the way first then. At times The Devil’s Bargin is a little too abstract for it’s own good and for it’s many strengths it’s lack of desire to appeal to the wider market means that mostly the film will exist only to those with the most broad of film tastes. Is that a bad thing? Not always but Cullingham almost seems to go out of his way to avoid this film ever being able too be described as ‘mainstream’ and ultimately that will hurt the films ability to break out to a wider audience. It depends if you feel film is art or commerce I guess and The Disparado/Monk3ys Ink Films team certainly set their stall out on this one early.
For me films produced on a limited budget (independent as they are often tagged) often suffer in three ways. They feel televisual with a staged often boring visual style, they suffer from poor sound and often featuring performances that scream amateur theatre. Thankfully and I guess surprisingly, considering that almost every independent film I have ever seen has at last two of these problems, The Devil’s Bargain has no such issues.
The central performances by Jonnie Hurn, Chloe Farnworth & Dan Burman are excellent. They put themselves out there and go above and beyond what most actors would do without a large guaranteed pay cheque at the end. Burman and Hurn as especially brave, for it’s not often this level of display is on show from male cast members (no pun intended). They frolic, cavort, fight and fuck, whilst naked for almost all of the films scant 76 min run time, with Cullingham managing to show more genitals in 76 minutes than an average night at Spearmint Rhino’s. But it never feels gratuitous, always in keeping with the story and the feel of the film. That said I can only imagine the fight scene between Burman and Hurn was a touch… uncomfortable to film at times.
Sound also is abstract enough to enhance the impressive experimental ‘pinhole’ technique that together give the film a very unique etherial, end of days feel and both work well to hide the films budgetary short comings (a fact you quickly forget). In fact it’s here the film really excels, and whilst I imagine several comparisons of Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England will be made, visually The Devil’s Bargain is a much more interesting film. And a lot less up it’s own arse. Which is nice.
Cullingham’ film delivers. Not to everyone’s tastes but it’s certainly a film to be proud of. Best of all is that Truly The Devil’s Bargain is a unique film. It challenges but without slipping into the pretentious, it’s abstract without being incomprehensible and intimate without ever being boring.
Did I understand it 100%?
Of course not. Did I love ever second of it? No
But I kinda feel that’s the point, to watch a film that stays with you for days after, that you remember and that most of all, you talk, tweet and ‘book about. Expect The Devil’s Bargain to be a grower, a film that will divide audiences as it’s tale is passed from one person to another.
“It’s the oddest thing ever ” ” It’s pretentious” “It’s amazing” “It’s full of nudity”…
You know what… it’s all those things and more. The true definition of cult movie. But more than any of it it’s more than worth a watch and it’s more than worthy of your support. And it’s much better than that other Field movie…
Reviewed By: Phil Hobden
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