Friday, February 14, 2014

The Devil's Carnival (2012): Aesop's Fables for Goths

The Devil's Carnival (2012)
dir: Darren Lynn Bousman

At a certain point in The Devil's Carnival, I thought "this would be awesome, if I were watching a community of amateurs doing this for free in a tent in the desert." Frequently, it seems like director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2-4) called his group together to say "Can you guys come help with this? It'll be fun! Not much money in it though. But, really, I won't take much of your time."

The whole genre of The Devil's Carnival fits Bousman's last film Repo! The Genetic Opera. Bousman's motley group consists of goth-industrial "singers," comic book artists, non-singing actors and actresses, and probably some array of actual burlesque and carnival folks. He had used many of this cast in Repo!, but had more success with the different singers at the focus of Repo!, including the now absent Sarah Brightman. But, without that powerhouse, we're left to listen to a bunch of non-singers warble their way through atonal circus-inspired carnival musical songs.

The Devil's Carnival is merely an excuse to string together three of Aesop's Fables. There is The Dog and His Reflection, The Scorpion and the Frog, and Grief and His Due. Since Aesop's Fables are generally short and to the point, we have to fill time with framing device.

In the real world, there are three characters who are about to die, and actually do die, each representing the three different stories. The first is a guy who locks himself in a bathroom, depressed, and then slits his wrists mourning his son. The second is a woman who is being chased by the cops. And, the third is a woman who is being beaten by her boyfriend. When they all die, they get transported to Hell, where they have to suffer through a short couple of songs based around their respective fables.

The woman being chased by the cops is a thief and always looking for material goods. Her story chases after bigger and bigger jewels, and when she sees a person in a mirror with a large amount of jewels, she dies. The woman being beaten goes from bad boy to bad boy, always trusting even though it doesn't benefit her. And the guy is looking for his dead son, but ultimately finds redemption.

Ultimately, in this movie, women are actually evil. Both women suffer through punishment for their transgressions. The greedy gold digger is also a liar. She doesn't escape. The habitually abused spouse is blamed because she trusts too easily, and her boyfriends are never punished for being bad boys (which, actually, goes against The Scorpion and the Frog, where the Scorpion stings the frog midway across the pond and they both die). But, the suicidal father is forgiven. So, no men are ever punished.

Besides the hideous streak of misogynistic patriarchal moralism, The Devil's Carnival is only passable in flashes. Sometimes, especially when Terrance Zdunich, Nivek Ogre, or Ivan L Moody are on screen, the carnival singing and music actually are sonically acceptable. They have a professional knowledge of tonality and atonality that the rest of the movie seems to not be able to reach with its non-professional singers. The sets are great for an amateur-style setup, creating more of a stagey feeling to it.

Which brings us to the question of "how much community feeling is acceptable?" In my review of Go Fish, I gave a lot of lee-way to the amateur community nature of Go Fish because it felt like a low-budget film that needed to be by a community. Sure actors flubbed lines, probably unintentionally, but it felt more home-style. Yet, for The Devil's Carnival, the amateur but we're trying nature grated on my nerves. Perhaps, it is because I enjoyed Repo! The Genetic Opera on an actual sonic level as well as on an entertainment level, thus my expectation levels were higher. Or, maybe the production levels of low-budget have gotten so professional looking that movies which would have previously looked like Go Fish (in black and white 16mm) now look pseudo-professional. Or, maybe its because I expect more from a director of 8 other films.

But, in any case, I can't get past that feeling like Bousman wants us to forgive the mistakes or off singing in order to really like this community film. It's a really high hurdle. Combine that with the misogyny of the film which condemns all females to hell, and you have a short film that is a bit toxic, and not in the good way.

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