Does director Darren Lynn Bousman sleep? Since 2010 the prolific filmmaker has helmed Mother’s Day, 11-11-11, The Barrens and The Devil’s Carnival (plus Ninety is in the pipeline). His post-Saw sequel career certainly hasn’t been predictable or dull even if the quality of the films is varied.
For The Devil’s Carnival, Bousman reunited with his Repo! The Genetic Opera writer Terrance Zdunich. The duo has concocted an aggressively bizarre musical that is slight but entertaining. The arresting images and chaotic storytelling are perfectly matched with the madcap songs. It makes for an intoxicating combination.
The story begins with God (Paul Sorvino) casting three lost souls out of heaven. John (Sean Patrick Flanery) is a father grieving over his lost son; Tamara (Jessica Lowndes) is a young woman in some sort of abusive relationship; and Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan) is a kleptomaniac. Each is about to lose their life. John is slitting his wrists while Tamara is going to be shot by an abusive boyfriend. Ms. Merrywood finds herself in a home surrounded by the police after stealing some jewelry.
The sinners are banished to The Devil’s Carnival. Lucifer himself (Zdunich) shares their tales as the trio tries to figure out exactly where they are and what is going on. This demented carnival is a slightly more extreme version of ones we’re accustomed to seeing. There are attractions, games, and assorted freaks and oddballs. But the stakes are high as the devil determines whether or not you are sent to heaven or remain in the carnival.
The stories of John, Tamara, and Ms. Merrywood are told in songs (which recount their sins) as they wander around the carnival. John has allowed grief to control his life and searches for his son. Tamara is naïve and too trusting, following around a good-looking guy who is nothing but trouble. Ms. Merrywood is consumed by greed and desperately wants to find a huge diamond.
John’s story (and feature song, “Grief”) is the weakest link. While the tales of Tamara and Ms. Merrywood are humorous and somewhat goofy, John’s is serious and gloomy, as is the song. It doesn’t mesh with the other stories or the movie’s tone. The Devil’s Carnival works best when it’s trying to be fun and twisted. Melancholy feels out of place.
Visually, it is spectacular. The costumes, makeup, and set design are superb. The devil in particular looks fantastic. It really is a feast for the eyes. Overall the songs are clever and catchy, with nearly everyone in the cast getting at least one chance to sing.
Clocking in at only 55 minutes, The Devil’s Carnival moves quickly but doesn’t feel rushed or incomplete. It doesn’t add to much and isn’t for everyone, but fans of Bousman and/or his previous musical will find plenty to admire.