Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: Devil’s Domain

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Devil’s Domain
Written and directed by Jared Cohn
Cleopatra Productions / MVD Visual
93 minutes, 2016 / 2017

Beyond the bulimia, it feels eerily like the opening shots of the film were geared towards me. On a walls and doors are a number of LPs covers, including the UK Subs, the Vibrators, Iggy Pop, Nico, and pictures of the New York Dolls, Sid Viscous and Johnny Ramone. Also present are some colored vinyl LPs tacked here and there. Despite the vinyl and related material, I would say this takes place in the “present,” which enlivens Marshall McLuhan’s statement that when a technology becomes obsolete, it comes back as art.

Madi Vodane
Our main protagonist, Lisa (Madi Vodane), is a burgeoning but closeted and in denial sister of Lesbos, who mistakenly misread some signals from her bestie, Rhonda (Brenna Tucker) which has led to her becoming a pariah among her ex-peers in high school. And for that rare moment, most of the actors could pass for the older edge of that age group.

She takes her anger and frustration out through binge eating and forced puking, and, well, taking matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, thanks to an ex-friend and scuzbucket Andrew (Zack Koslow), she’s now being harassed online and cyberbullied. Now what’s the best way to deal with this kind of emotional pain? Well if you’re a genre fan, make a deal with the lovely woman (Linda Bella) who is, (super)naturally, the devil. As a side note, why does Satan often introduce itself in films lately as “I am known by many names”? Perhaps this could be called Lisa and the Devil II, and if so, where’s Elke Sommers? Okay, I both digress and kid…

While her well-meaning step-dad (Michael Masden) tries to be there for her (good luck when you’re a big, tattooed dude dealing with a teen step-girl), Lisa’s mom (the excellent Kelly Erin Decker) is less forgiving and wants to dump her in a rehab somewhere, though it’s hard to tell if it’s for the bulimia or for lesbianism – or both.

Linda Bella
The very tall and very lanky Destiny, aka the Debbil, is much more accommodating, since it’s what Beelzebub (not to be confused with the director Bill Zebub) does until either the contract is in effect, or does not get what it wants. Or in this case, of course, it is both.

This film is interesting from a media theorist’s perspective, especially if you’ve ever read any of social critic (don’t call him a social scientist!), Neil Postman. Almost omnipresent in the film is both media technology and what is now being called new media. The world here revolves around cell phones, websites, mini-cameras, digital flatscreen televisions, and there’s a shout-out to Snapchat. Postman infamously said that technology is a bargain with the devil, because while you get good things out of it, there is inevitably a dark side of things that you lose, most of them unpredictable until later. Cyberbullying is a good example of that.

On many levels, the story is quite bread-and-butter, nuts-and-bolts, and any other cliché expression you may want to add. What I mean is that it’s simple and to the point, which is part of what makes it so enjoyable. This is the third Cohn film I’ve seen, and while they varied in my feelings about them, this is by far my fave. Now he makes a lot of films, and three is half of how many he usually makes a year, but I’ll go with what I know, and enjoying it is, well, what I know.

Michael Masden
The cast hits the notes necessary for the story, with New Zealand newcomer Vodane definitely hitting all her marks, as does just about the rest of the cast. Sure Masden looks a bit like he’s stunned here and there, but something that’s been generally true for a while; I really like the guy, but I wonder what happened to him that made his career end up in micro-budget indies. Desanka Julia Ilic also is in fine form as Kate, leader of the mean girls.

There isn’t much in the way of nudity or sex, though much is implied and shown off-camera with one exception, but I’m totally fine with that. Though it does make me wonder about how I didn’t get to go to a school where everyone, female and male, are attractive. I mean, they call Lisa “fat ass,” but in my Brooklyn school, she would definitely have been one of the elite.

The Devil costume looks interesting, and the gore throughout is well handled and has a nice texture to it. What I mean by that is it is not necessarily too realistic: bones and sinew are fine for more intense films like torture stuff or heavy dramas, but when it comes to a fun flick like this one, despite quite effective moments of tension, having a red gooey mess is perfectly good (and more marketable… I’m just sayin’).

The first extra is the commentary track handled singularly by the director, Cohn. To be totally honest, it’s a mess, don’t bother. He sounds like he’s totally drunk, slurring his words and more often than not, just saying what’s on the screen (to paraphrase: “She’s opening the door now [pause] going inside.”). He mentions “white sky,” whatever that is, more than once; I assume he means it’s sunny and cloudless. There are a couple of interesting bits of stories here and there, but I got annoyed enough to turn it off at the 29 minute mark.

“The Devil Made Me Do It” is a 6:15-minute Behind the Scenes featurette. It’s decent, and kept the interest level up. It’s mostly interviews and overviews of the filming. There’s nothing explosive, but it’s certainly not dull. Next up is an 8-minute Red Carpet Premiere bit with interviews containing most of the cast and the director (in his normal voice) that that is more interesting, as well as a 42-picture slide show that includes a mix of film stills and behind the scenes shots. Last is the trailer, which I find interesting that it focuses in on cyberbullying more than the demon at hand, and I think that works for the piece.

What I learned from the extras is that the seed of the story came from Cleopatra Records, who owns all the music in the picture (including Iggy and the Stooges) and asked Cohn to write a film about cyberbullying. While that was achieved, he took it to another level by adding in the reliance on technology and the fascination with fame that so many teens have nowadays thanks to the rise of instant-viral videos. There is also a nod to peer pressure, as Lisa’s ex-friends Andrew and Rhonda prove they will do just about anything to fit in with the cool crowd. I remember thinking at the time that Andrew would be called nerdish in my school, but he is obviously being manipulated without realizing it, and his moment of rue shows that he is becoming conscious of it.

So, to sum up, with lots to chew on in a peripheral and sociological way, the basic story is one you can watch that is pretty straightforward, but the subtle cultural messages are actually enjoyable rather than getting in the way. Nice job.

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