I knew very little about Phase 4 Films’ upcoming release Devil’s Mile before I sat down to watch it. Typically, I prefer that, but in this case that “very little” consisted of “It’s a road movie where things go bad”. Well, I’ve seen that before, a couple times actually, and they ranged from either pretty good to almost downright unwatchable. To be honest, I was a little leery of having to sit through that kinda flick again, my admittedly jaded sensibilities expecting the worst. Still, it’s what I do, so burying my trepidation, I settled in and pressed PLAY…
Three criminals are en route to their boss with a package he requested; two Asian girls they have in the trunk of their car, unfortunate kidnap victims to be ransomed off. The trio, two women and one man, show a lot of disparity from the beginning; the man is a hotheaded, violent brute with a single-minded selfishness that he wears on his sleeve; the older woman seems more emotional, but just as selfish in many ways, although she seems to have a motherly-type instinct for the younger woman, who in turn seems the most compassionate of the three. Finding themselves lost on some infinite stretch of back road in the middle of nowhere, a series of events culminates in their discovering that one of the two girls they’re supposed to deliver is the wrong girl, and the other girl (the right one) being dead. As panic sets in amongst the trio (their boss isn’t known for being very forgiving), true colors are shown; rage consumes one, fear another, and a sense of resolve the third. The desolate road around the surviving group becomes a nightmarish world of terror and confusion where their deepest fears and secrets are laid bare; as the story unfolds, questions of survival, and even purpose, become all-encompassing, and the woes of three undesirable members of society become a flashpoint in a battle between good and evil…
I was pleasantly surprised by this little indie…it has a lot going for it, starting with the script; the story is an interesting and original blending of several ideas. Looking at it as a freshman effort, you have to give credit to writer/director Joseph O’Brien; what you get is a film that comes at you like a gritty crime thriller, takes a circumstantial turn into an Asian ghostly-revenge flick, and then as a whole is wrapped up in a time-hopping, surreally existential narrative. It’s like Tarantino wrote a script with Takashi Shimizu, let David Lynch do a treatment on it, then all three co-directed it.
At first, the use of these different styles seems like what could be considered just rip-offs of old ideas; it’s inevitably going to remind you of other films, visually and audibly; Dead End and The Grudge in particular. However, I think the script, with a mix of skill and reverence, weaves these familiarities into a story that’s both fresh and eerie; it’s certainly not a clone of either of those flicks I mentioned, nor of any other film for that matter. Although this tapestry gets a bit convoluted in the last reel, everything resolves itself satisfactorily at the end; the big questions are answered, albeit with a level of ambiguity that leaves much to individual interpretation. I myself enjoy this kind of ending from time to time, if, as I feel it is here, it’s done well.
The cinematography is creative, using CGI that at times is a bit obvious, but in the context of the surreal nature of the film, it works. The makeup effects, with some nice bloody bits (although most of the grue is kept just off-screen) are pretty well-done; however, there are times that wounds just look like lines drawn on the skin with a sharpie…several times I thought characters should be covered with blood, but instead had these neat, almost symmetrical slashes that simply weren’t bleeding. As the film went on, however, a realization struck me about all of that; without giving too much away, I can tell you that once you realize that everything the characters (and by default, we the audience) see is not always what it seems, indeed not always necessarily even real (and that’s not a spoiler; see the film and you’ll realize that what’s real and what’s not are valid ambiguities), all of the twisted, unearthly, and occasionally unrealistic imagery makes a kind of mythical sense.
The acting was convincing and consistent, and the cast meshed together very well in their respective roles; each portrayal, despite seeming somewhat cookie-cutter in the first few minutes, had subtle touches that instilled beliefs and perceptions about the characters without dialogue-heavy exposition.
This served to create a group of people where I despised some, and actually (in some cases, even grudgingly) gave a damn about others; regardless, they accomplished what any cast needs to do: for good or for ill, they inspired feelings.
I enjoyed this one, folks; it has its shortcomings, but it absorbed me enough in its world to make them negligible. The flick led me down one road (heh-heh), but left me in a place where it normally couldn’t have gone.
I wish O’Brien success with this film, and I certainly hope it gives him the opportunity to move on to bigger-budget outings; he’s definitely piqued my curiosity.
DEVIL’S MILE will be premiering at the Fantasia International Film Fest. Be sure not to miss this one if you’re attending!
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