TIFF ’07: The Devil’s Chair

Posted: September 17, 2007 in Film Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival
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The Devil’s Chair is best described as a cross between The Legend of Hell House (1973) and an Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) narrative. But somewhere in the middle of this film, you will have to ask “What the f–k?”

First, to be clear, it is supposed to be absurd. It is an homage to the 1980s horror flicks so many of us grew up on. Every mistake, stupid decision and cheesy delivery is a wink and nudge to horror fans. Then director Adam Mason turns the whole genre on its head.

The title’s chair is in the decrepit Blackwater Asylum. It resembles an electric chair altered to satisfy a sadistic fetish. Nick (Andrew Howard) takes his girlfriend to see it, assuming it would be a good spot to get high and shag; but unseen forces join the party, things get messy and Nick is locked away with the criminally insane. Four years later, he is released into the care of prominent psychiatrist Dr. Willard (David Gant), who is determined to uncover the truth behind the murder. He and a team of students take Nick back to the asylum for an overnight stay. They want to show him nothing evil lurks in the shadows and the chair is just a chair. Of course, they are wrong.

Nick is relaying the story to us, his audience. His voice carries over the footage, pausing it to make a point, commenting on events, and sizing up the characters and situations. It is during these voiceovers Nick tells listeners he wishes he had paid more attention to slasher flicks and learned something about survival from them. (Tip #1: do not wander around abandoned asylums.)

Shot in high-definition and then heavily grated, the film’s images are stark and disturbing. The colors alternate between drained and dark and vivid and red, effectively confusing the order of events and the reality of their occurrence.

One of the film’s downfalls is the appearance of the demon. Even though it is well constructed, it does not invoke the fear of a Freddy Krueger or Pinhead; it kind of looks like a cross between the grim reaper and a giant insect, which although strange is not scary. Unfortunately, this oversight results in a dip in the momentum a third of the way through the movie. Moreover, Mason fails to capitalize on a few key opportunities to really scare the audience in this section.

On the other hand, in true horror fashion, victims are stalked, people are maimed and the walls run red with blood. The events take a bizarre turn and climax in intense brutality, which must be seen to be appreciated.

Howard’s portrayal of a man unable to distinguish between reality, fantasy and the drug-induced blending of the two is quite unsettling. In the end, his performance takes on a quality that would even disturb Hannibal Lecter.

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