By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
New York born Writer-director Jared Cohn delivers a beautifully made, splendidly acted and engrossing take on an oft utilized concept in Devil’s Domain (2016). Cohn’s invention concerns a cyber-bullied teenager, Lisa (in a compelling performance from Madi Vodane that immediately and continuously draws sympathy from audience patrons). Frustrated by the torment that she undergoes daily, and a video of our central figure that only makes our central figure more of a target for harassment, Lisa meets an appealing stranger online. She initially states that her name is Destiny (in a hypnotic and superb enactment from Linda Bella). Almost immediately Destiny reveals herself to be The Devil. Drawn into the powerful and seductive promise of having her desires fulfilled, Lisa makes a deal with Destiny. The promise soon turns to tragedy. This is as Lisa’s peers find themselves the unwilling victim of this unholy pact.
Despite the familiarity inherent in the general plot, Cohn’s feature never feels predictable or overdone. Such is a courtesy of Cohn’s competent pace. It is also the consequence of his terrific balance of characterization and story. The horror sequences, especially a third act arrangement involving Lisa watching someone who recently confessed her feelings to our protagonist being hit by a car, are all effectively staged and tremendously executed. Cohn also implements a finale that shares the generally tried and true sensation of the tale itself. Yet, still it arises as a potent punctuation point to this memorable thrill ride. It also serves as a necessary extension of where the narrative appears to be naturally headed.
Such an ability to turn tropes into triumphs is the result of Cohn’s masterful, ever-taunt guidance of the project. His script, which is immersed in realistic dialogue and motivations, provides a consistently solid backbone to this celluloid exhibition. The photoplay is also made increasingly stalwart by Josh Maas’ atmospheric and striking cinematography. Additionally, Rob Pallatina’s editing is seamless and sharp. Correspondingly, the special effects are so credible that they greatly enhance the believability of what we are watching on-screen. Furthermore, unlike many similar genre efforts of the day, there isn’t an overreliance on these filmmaking illusions to mount intensity or culminate dread. This is another indicator of the sheer craftsmanship at hand.
Also, assisting matters are the top-notch depictions. Michael Madsen is especially good as Lisa’s compassionate and understanding stepfather, Bill. The music from Iggy & The Stooges, DMX and Onyx, reiterates both the tone and the overall beats of the affair uniquely and spectacularly. Likewise, the piece casually ebbs and flows eye-catching style. This is evident instantly in an opening credits sequence that is filled with comic book-like renderings of the leads. This is paired with Satanic symbols and images. The section is capped off by excellent animation work from Devin J. Dilmore. In turn, this bit calls to mind the bravura cinematic flash of a Gallo feature from legendary Italian moviemaker Dario Argento. This visceral flare, and alignment to the aforesaid maestro, is recaptured in the variety of imaginative and grisly kill scenes found throughout the labor. The outcome of these elements is a gripping and ever-immersive example of all-around talent; a brilliant tour de force. See Devil’s Domain when it is released in limited theaters and on video on demand on May 30th, 2017.
Runtime: 92 minutes and 48 seconds.
Distribution Company: The Orchard.
Production Company: Cleopatra Films, Cleopatra Records.