Where the Devil Roams (2023) poster

Where the Devil Roams (2023)

Rating:


USA. 2023.

Crew

Directors/Screenplay – John Adams, Zelda Adams & Toby Poser, Producer – Toby Poser, Photography (some scenes b&w) – John Adams & Zelda Adams, Music – John Adams, Visual Effects – Trey Lindsay, Makeup Effects – John Adams, Trey Lindsay & Toby Poser. Production Company – Wonder Wheel Productions.

Cast

Toby Poser (Maggie), John Adams (Seven), Zelda Adams (Eve), Sam Rodd (Mr. Tipps), Stephen O’Donnell (Banker D. Gray), Harald Sorlie (Erik Johansen), Lulu Adams (Axe Girl), Razor De Rockefeller (Rocky), Robert Lund (Farmer Ned), Finn Haney (Soldier Sully), Judith Katz (Landlady)


Plot

The 1930s. Seven, a former army medic who is still haunted by his experiences in the war, his woman Maggie and their teenage daughter Eve are circus carnies. The star of the circus is Mr Tipps who has a grotesque act where he cuts off his own fingers. Tipps shows Eve his secret – a deal he made with the forces of darkness that allows him to sew his fingers back on. Seven and Maggie now have their farm repossessed. They respond by going to the banker and Maggie killing him. They travel across country, arriving at farms and killing people.


The Adams Family consist of father John Adams, his wife Toby Poser and their daughter Zelda (and to a lesser extent the other daughter Lulu who has a small role here) who between them direct, write, produce, photograph, create the music for and star in their own films. They have made Rumblestrips (2013), Knuckle Jack (2014), The Shoot (2014) and Halfway to Zen (2016), all of which are non-genre dramas. By the end of the 2010s and into the 2020s, the Adams’s discovered the horror genre and made the quite impressive likes of The Deeper You Dig (2019) and Hellbender (2021).

The Adams Family have gained increasing acclaim with their horror films – Where the Devil Roams is the third they have made in a row. One of the fascinating things about the Adams Family’s films is watching them stretch and experiment, seeking to create their own genre as they go on. The material plumbs adjacent places to the Folk Horror label that has taken off in recent years, although their films do not always easily sit in the same places as other works in the genre. The material also sits in the realm of a rural Gothic that seems to be an increasingly emergent field – the place that films like Pyewacket (2017) and Sator (2019) sit in the borderlands between the city and the country where dark and occult things are occurring, even at a pitch something of a film like The Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015). But the Adams’s also create something unique that is distinctively their own.

Where the Devil Roams is a film where you struggle to even define what type of film you are watching. It seems all over the place and is often hard trying to guess where the story is going. Getting a sense of the characters and where they are coming from requires often paying careful attention to the hints dropped in throwaway dialogue and piecing these together. Least of all is the question of how everything all fits together – although it does all do so very nicely in the last quarter.

The Adams Family - John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser in Where the Devil Roams (2023)
The Adams Family – (l to r) father John Adams, daughter Zelda Adams and mother Toby Poser

The prologue features John appearing as a legless performer on a stage reading a Biblical poem, before we cut to John and Toby being stabbed by a girl (played by the other daughter Lulu). We then jump back earlier to the circus as we follow Zelda Adams as she takes us through the line-up of freaks – who are all outfitted with grotesquely caked makeup or drag performers (?) with giant oversized eyelashes and multiple piercings akin to refugees from a Marilyn Manson concert.

A few scenes later, we see the Adams’ having dinner with banker Stephen O’Donnell, before Toby blindfolds John and then bashes O’Donnell’s head in with a frying pan. This is followed by a series of scenes where they tour through the countryside, killing those they come across, which are all directed in the Adams’ terse, understated manner. These scenes come with a number of abrupt and shocking images that include pokers through the throat and heads blown apart with a shotgun blast.

Trying to find a soundbite to encapsulate Where the Devil Roams is a scratch of the head. It could be a horror version of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) with its trio of characters on the run in the 1930s across a landscape, albeit with Malick’s Midwestern prairies substituted for the frozen winter landscapes of New York state that the Adams Family seem to prefer. There’s something of the circus worlds of Tod Browning in films like The Unknown (1927) and Freaks (1932) having been given far more of a Marilyn Manson-esque spin. That and the dark rural Gothic of a hidden black magic that lurks behind the facade of a shabby circus that you get in a show like Carnivale (2003-5), before the end goes off into a bizarre Frankenstein spin.


Trailer here


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