Nick West: “Hi there. I’m Nick West. I’m medicated, how are you?”
The Devil’s Chair, written and directed Adam Mason, is a potent, self-aware mix of campy Bubblegum and grotesque Body Horror with a 3rd Act that will fuck you up emotionally. The script, which often employs a first-person narrator, is blisteringly satirical and witty as hell.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: With a pocketful of drugs, Nick West takes out his girlfriend Sammy, for a good time. When they explore an abandoned asylum, the discovery of a bizarre device, a cross between an electric chair and sadistic fetish machine, transforms drugged-out bliss into agony and despair. After Sammy is brutally assaulted and murdered by unseen forces, Nick becomes the number-one suspect. Years pass and Nick, who had been locked up in a mental hospital, is released into the care of eminent psychiatrist Dr. Willard, who is hell-bent on exposing the truth behind the killing. Accompanied by Dr. Willard and several of his students, Nick returns to the scene of the crime. However, the decrepit asylum hides a blood-drenched secret.
The Devil’s Chair often plays out like an homage to Hellraiser. For starters, the narrator mentions the film as something that might have prepared him for the horrific ordeal he’s endured. The titular Chair is actually a portal to another dimension, a dark labyrinth of dank corridors and urban decay (and, of course, every labyrinth has its Minotaur); chains dangle from ceilings and beams of light slice the darkness through boards and shutters; while relatively fast, transportation to this realm leaves a body torn and mangled. It’s an inescapable nightmare-world humid with blood and human suffering, inhabited by an intense evil.
Any cinema fan can tell you that narrators can be distracting, and this is especially true with Horror movies–but it totally works in The Devil’s Chair. Andrew Howard (2010’s I Spit on Your Grave) carries the film with his portrayal of mental patient Nick West. He’s like a poor man’s Jason Statham, at times taking on a tone reminiscent of another famous narrator: Alex from A Clockwork Orange. (Coincidentally, Howard has played Alex in theater productions based on Kubrick’s film). On the outside, he’s a broken shell of a man, but as the narrator of The Devil’s Chair, he’s the epitome of street-smarts with a wicked wit. Without his commentary (deftly scattered throughout) The Devil’s Chair would no doubt come across as full of itself and outlandish (not to mention brutal and joyless). The narration gives a needed balance, an antidote to the sometimes oppressive gore and violence, resulting in a film that never feels dull and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Of course, Nick is a rather problematic narrator; how much credence can we give a man who admit he’s crazy and medicated?
Remember how I mentioned the film’s conclusion is devastating? There’s a radical shift where the narration vanishes, but not before West delivers a truly remarkable soliloquy aimed squarely at the viewer:
As you can see it all got a bit silly right here… Is this what I promised you? Are we prick teasing you enough? Is this what you came here to see, all my brothers? Look at this poorly written, badly acted bullshit! Is there any truth in this B-movie banality? No! No, there is no truth. Believe no one. Believe nothing. You freaks and geeks. You bloodthirsty morons, fuck you!… Did you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
When this scathing condemnation ends, the film’s brutality suddenly reaches dizzying heights. The action slows to a crawl as Mason subjects us to 20 minutes of agonizing violence (including rape and dismemberment). It’s completely humorless, an abrupt and shocking moment that will affect different viewers in different ways. Some people will be completely put off, but that type probably wouldn’t be watching The Devil’s Chair in a thousand years anyway. Among aficionados, some will lament the loss of levity while others will no doubt applaud a shift from black comedy to bleak nihilism. Either way, it’s a pivotal moment in the film that not only reveals truths, but embeds itself beneath your skin.
I’ve heaped praise on Howard, but other cast members deserve recognition as well. David Grant is brilliant as the psychologist with questionable ethics, Dr. Willard (who Nick affectionately refers to as “Gandalf”); his performance is reminiscent of Christopher Lee in an old-school Hammer gothic. Matt Berry is hysterical as the jaded and cowardly grad student Brett Wilson; when a female colleague tells him she’s being chased by a demonic force he quickly recommends: “Let’s split up.” While no one sucks, the female characters are certainly the most 2-dimensional, and least likeable. Louise Griffiths and Elize du Toit are both talented, but these were relatively meager roles.
For the most part, The Devil’s Chair looks amazing. Filming took place at RAF Upwood, a derelict airbase near Ramsey in Cambridgeshire. An awesome, abandoned building is essential for a good supernatural movie, essentially becoming another character. The demon/creature FX are… pretty good. I appreciate the fact that there wasn’t a shred of CGI (big fan of practical/animatronic FX right here) and the fucker looked sufficiently imposing and disgusting (most of the time); I detected elements of The Grim Reaper, The Slender Man, and the Xenomorph from Alien. The gore and body-trauma FX’s are all delightfully nauseating. The Chair itself: An understated yet imposing fusion of outdated medical restraints and medieval metalwork.
If you liked films like Session 9 and Grave Encounters, you’ll definitely dig The Devil’s Chair. My only complaint is that the “twist”, while interesting and shocking, left some glaring plot holes; most egregious: We never know what really happened to Samantha in the film’s opening scene. So while it might not be perfect, it’s still a great roller-coaster ride; The Devil’s Chair is something I could easily recommend to most Horror fans, but it’s much too brutal for mainstream cinema-goers.
P.S. Did anyone else catch the Sex Pistols reference?
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Adam Mason|
|Produced by||Nadja Brand
Eric M. Breiman
|Written by||Adam Mason
Eric M. Breiman,
Elize du Toit,
|Cinematography||Ole Bratt Birkeland|
|Editing by||Hasse Billing|
|Distributed by||Renegade Worldwide|