We open on a late afternoon as a ragged street preacher prophesies impending death and doom to disinterested passers-by. Among their number is Patrick Creedle (Matthew Hebden of Cartwheels and The Basil Brush Show), a character as fantastically despicable as his phone conversations are loud and abusive.
Which, for the record, is very.
Creedle steps into a local cafe for a coffee, unaware that the street preacher has followed him inside. Cornering Creedle at his table, Rime of the Ancient Mariner-style, the street preacher demands a few minutes of his captive’s time to relay a tale of creeping horror.
Hebden’s performance is definitely the highlight of the film, appearing instantly despicable without being cartoonish. He’s very much the self-absorbed ***hole that we know to well, and in his more sympathetic moments, Creedle could very much be us if we were caught on a bad day.
Our street preacher (Johnny Vivash of The Creature Below and The Collaborators) does a decent job of portraying a schizotypal vagrant who might not be quite as crazy as he first sounds. His insistence that a dark conspiracy is afoot grows increasingly eerie with every desperate whisper.
Unfortunately, “eerie” is about as far as things get. For all the actor’s efforts, we are very much being told a story, rather than shown one. That we’re being told this story in a bright, airy, bustling cafe in the middle of the day doesn’t help things. Not that airy, bustling cafes can’t be frightening (Lord knows Stephen King managed it). That might sound like something of a quibble- especially directed at a short film, but it does make all the difference in the world.
Had Devil Town stuck the landing on tone, it might be easier to forgive it’s ending, which is intended as a twist but lands a lot more like an abrupt Deus Ex Machina (or would that be “Daemonium Ex Machina?“). The reveal of the antagonists’ sinister plot does come at a surprise, but it’s such an inefficient strategy that I don’t anyone would could have guessed at it. Elements of it seem to directly contradict clues given earlier in the film, making the gleeful “you weren’t paying attention” taunt near the end feel more annoying than horrifying. There’s movies that fool you and movies that deceive you, and Devil Town keeps company with the latter.
For its faults in plot, Devil Town still serves as a loving homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which the film directly references) and the feel of much of the “quiet horror” of the 1960s. Special credit should go to the soundtrack, which jerked back and forth between deep, ominous rumbles and an old-timey ballad. The relentless, jarring contrast definitely gives Devil Town a soul all its own. While there’s a lot I’d have to (joylessly) fault Devil Town
for, a lack of heart ain’t one of them.
And that’s gotta count for something.
Devil Town has been added as an official selection of Dread Central, has also been accepted to play on ShortsTV, and will be available to buy through iTunes in 2017.
Be sure to stay tuned for our interview with creator and director Nick Barrett.