Review: Bousman/Zdunich's 'The Devil's Carnival' One Hell of a Night
by Jeremy Kirk
April 17, 2012
The stage is set, the curtain lifts, and director Darren Bousman and writer Terrance Zdunich have graced us with another twisted yarn of dark ideals in fantastic worlds set to some seriously catchy songs. The Devil's Carnival isn't set in a sci-fi world like Repo! The Genetic Opera, the duo's first trek into ambitious, musical fables, rather the underworld, the depths where sinners lie. Call it Hell. Their conceit is hefty, their execution is moodily carried off, and The Devil's Carnival becomes a tale even more giddy in tone yet grim with its underpinning than Repo! With an added pre-shows as part of the road show events, it's an experience not to be missed.
Explored through three stories, three newly arrived sinners, the Hell that Bousman and Zdunich have crafted is an old fashioned carnival, barker and all. Demons make up the carnival workers, the sideshow freaks, and the circus performers whose enactments of skill aren't always with the best of intentions. As the stories of lost souls traveling through this carnival unfold, we are introduced to the Devil himself, played with an ocean of class yet toying sarcasm by Zdunich and aided by the man's bellowing voice—this thing is seriously deep, people. The Devil has a plan for all souls, an even darker blueprint for mischief, that becomes evident to all.
Bousman and Zdunich's storytelling skills have grown as their budgets have constricted. The stories that play out in The Devil's Carnival are tales of hurt people, chief among them the story of a father, played by Sean Patrick Flanery, whose grief over the loss of his son has him take his own life to search for his child in the afterlife. The dual tones between their stories and the attitudes of the carnival's inhabitants play with the film's atmosphere and give it an uncomfortable grip. You're finding a tremendous amount of amusement in watching these musical tales of pain and torment. You know it's all in good fun.
But the style Bousman incorporates with The Devil's Carnival adds to the unnerving feeling. Told in lines and upstanding shapes, the kind of style given to us by the German Expressionists who gave us Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Bousman takes his experience, utilizes the resources he has, and creates the world he truly wanted to create. His films have always had a style of their own, an almost music video tone with sharp edges. With The Devil's Carnival, Bousman is setting aside that music video tone, and his edges are sharper than ever.
His quirky casting never ceases to fail either, and actors like Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy all return from Repo! to mix in with the joy. Dayton Callie under heavy latex as the Ticket-Keeper takes charge in every one of his scenes, pretty much how he does in every other project he's ever been in. Paul Sorvino, also returning from Repo!, is gone too soon as a creator of the world who builds baby dolls and sings in operatic Baritone. That man's voice breaks bulletproof windows.
It helps the songs Zdunich has sweat over and pieced together to accompany these tales are increasingly foot-stomping, the kind of songs you listen to over and over again even when you're not watching the film. Unlike the songs he crafted for Repo!, The Devil's Carnivals jingles don't rely on any electronic music. The horns and sirens, drums and cymbals, and probably all sorts of outside-the-box items used as instruments add to the overall tone of the film. They give the songs here an earthy vibe, more grounded for this very home-built circus of entertainment. Like Repo!, though, the songs throughout the film have a build to them, a habit of getting better as the story progresses. It isn't that the songs in the beginning are unlistenable. They're just not as catchy.
The tale crescendos at the start of a new story, that sinister plot the Devil was keeping under his horns, and a promise of more wickedness from the world of The Devil's Carnival is met with proud delight. It's feeling proud for Bousman, who has finally set his sights on the films he truly wishes to make—he noted in the post-film Q&A that he went to Hollywood with dreams of directing musicals, and, instead, helmed three back-to-back Saw movies—and Zdunich, who is having his characters and stories experienced by and songs played for devoted fans all over the country. Fans with the kind of devotion that they would dress as characters from this film they had never even seen. Genterns come out to play, as well.
The Devil's Carnival is currently traveling across the United States, Bousman, Zdunich, and some of the cast in tow. You can check out their schedule, where they'll be next, and order your tickets by following this link right here. The crew amass local talent of the more sideshow variety for a pre-show filler. Knife juggling, burlesque dancing, and a rousing rendition of Jekyll & Hyde's "Bring On the Men" kicked off our night in Austin. Add in this delightfully devious yet playful and fanciful film experience, and a night with The Devil's Carnival is one not soon forgot. You can also learn more about Devil's Carnival here.