Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Jessica Graham, Joe Wanjai Ross, Vanessa Kay, Ruben Terrones, Jeff Swarthout
Directed by Howie Askins
Written by Howie Askins and Tracy Wilcox
The license plate of a car shown during the opening moments of indie thrill ride Devil Girl promises someone is “going down”, and whether you interpret that in a sexual way or in a gangsterish manner like getting knocked down and beaten up, you’ll definitely have your expectations met by the film … and then some!
Devil Girl takes the viewer for a surreal ride along Route 66 (or is that 666?) with tough-as-nails Fay (Graham), who is trying to outrun her grief over the loss of her beloved father, and a violent pill-popping, hard-drinking, sex-obsessed guy on a motorcycle (Ross), who also happens to always be in clown makeup. We gradually learn Fay’s story in flashbacks. She’s currently making ends meet via hustling pool and street racing, but when she needs a place to stay for the night after her car breaks down and she loses her wallet, she’s forced to resort to stripping. Co-writer (with Tracy Wilcox, a long-time makeup artist) and director Howie Askins leads his star through one of the most effective strip club scenes I’ve seen. You can feel the emotions Fay is experiencing in a non-voyeuristic, highly empathic way. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, we return to the club a few too many times for scenes of clown boy tripping out on the dancers that are mostly just loud and annoying and feel overly extended (although certainly more than a few of our male readers would probably consider that a positive rather than a negative as I did).
Speaking of The Clown, as he’s known, his character is obviously on the run from something as well, and as you’d expect, Devil Girl‘s suspense quota is tied into when and how he and Fay are going to cross paths and have their moment together. The time is filled with numerous peeks into his psyche, which is a lot like you might imagine Emmett Kelly on hallucinogens would be. It’s some really sick and twisted — and quite fun — stuff. Ross very nearly steals the show with his whacked-out performance, but he’s equally matched by Graham, who gives off a kind of Lena Heady vibe. She’s surely attractive enough to successfully use her feminine wiles when she has to but, at the same time, is so smart and resourceful, you know she doesn’t need to rely on just her looks all that often. The rest of the acting is all over the place (remember it’s a true indie), but no one’s so bad they ruin it for everyone else. Sadly, the titular Devil Girl is probably one of the weakest links, but her screen time is minimal. She mainly just appears now and then to move events along and keep us guessing about what’s real and what’s in the characters’ heads. And she looks fantastic!
One of the highlights of the movie is its use of Evangelical preachers quoting Scripture during scene changes via radio and television broadcasts. These transitions add substance to the overall tone and mood, as do the filmmakers’ song and sound design choices, but, as alluded to previously with the repetitiously blaring exotic dancing scenes, the soundtrack also serves to pad the runtime, bringing us to Devil Girl‘s lowlight, which is something we see in indie projects over and over again: While the idea is terrific for a short film, there’s just not enough there for a feature. And, to make matters worse, stretching out the tension so unnecessarily makes the bad guy less menacing and leaves the audience stuck in limbo for long stretches. For instance, by the time Devil Girl shows up for some lesbo action with Fay, I was already getting antsy and disinterested. Just cut to the chase, how about it?
The final 20 minutes or so provide a pretty decent payoff for those who are patient although no doubt the ending will divide people. I’m on the side of those who appreciate what Wilcox and Askins were going for and think they show a great deal of daring and confidence in their work. When you start your film with the definition of “archetype“, invoking Carl Jung and the collective unconscious, you’re automatically going to lose those who just don’t relate to that kind of headsy posturing. But me? I’ll always give guys like Tracy and Howie — and The Clown — a few hours out of my day just to see what kind of journey we might end up on. While Devil Girl won’t be setting the mainstream on fire, those who share my curiosity for experimental type films should find it to be well above average.
3 out of 5