November 6, 2014
Christian E. Christiansen
Alycia Debnam-Carey as Mary
Rufus Sewell as Jacob Brown
Colm Meaney as Elder Beacon
Jennifer Carpenter as Rebekah
Originally titled, “Where the Devil Hides”, I offer you The Devil’s Hand. I’m not terribly fond of either title, but my complaints are obviously far too late. With more than a passing debt to the 1981 Wes Craven semi-classic, Deadly Blessing, this film places us in a tight-knit, strict and dangerously religious small town called New Bethlehem. Complete with a power-hungry and out-of-touch leader (Colm Meaney here and the legendary Ernest Borgnine inDeadly Blessing) as well as supernatural goings-on and the alluring draw of the outside world into this thinly-veiled Amish community – the comparisons are ripe for the picking. Not to mention a scary barn sequence in the hayloft (remember that uber-creepy scene with Sharon Stone – yes, that Sharon Stone in Deadly Blessing?) But enough about that – The Devil’s Handsucceeds on its own laurels.
The story begins back in 1994 – June 6th to be exact – when SIX girls are born within minutes of one another. You see that 6-6-6 tumble of numbers there? Well, these religious folks believe that a prophecy is about to be fulfilled – and on the girls’ 18th birthday, only one will remain alive – proving that this lone girl is now an honest-to-God tool of Satan, i.e. “The Devil’s Hand”. So let’s flash forward to the present day. It’s a few days before the girls become legal. And strange things begin to happen. Missing persons, murder, a hooded figure and Mary (our lead, the outstanding Alycia Debnam-Carey) begins to have frequent episodes where she passes out, violently shakes and experiences visions. Thing is, she’s had them all of her life, but lately, they’re becoming more severe. Uh-oh! One particular vision was strikingly creepy, as she wakes to noises in her closet, moves to investigate just as the room begins to shake – then comes the blood from the ceiling. Yikes! Sure, bloody walls, dripping ceilings – it’s all been done before, but I thought this time out, it was pretty darn effective!
All of the five girls – Adelaide Kane, Nicole Elliott, Katie Garfield, Leah Pipes and the aforementioned Alycia Debnam-Carey (I won’t spill the beans on why there are only five) are well cast and it was a welcome change to have them all in their tight bonnets and modest dresses. The fact that these girls were in danger and they weren’t scantily clad or overly-bitchy, was a nice change of pace. At first, it was rather difficult to tell them apart, but in short order, their various personalities begin to take shape, and before you know it, you don’t have to keep track anyway, since the body count starts to add up – right from the get-go! And I found their initial interactions in the lake together, very appealing and realistic (at first I wasn’t sure about their modern speak, but it became clear that they were away from their rules and elders, so their lack of inhibitions rang true to me). Bottom line, I liked these girls and I believed them.
Rufus Sewell (Dark City) is Mary’s devoted father. He’s a firm but caring presence. But this character doesn’t give Sewell (an accomplished actor) a whole lot to do. However, just having Sewell there made a difference. For a relatively low budget and basically direct-to-video piece, he brings the quality and legitimacy.
And then there’s the perennially under-rated Jennifer Carpenter (of Showtime’s now-deceased 8-season hit Dexter). Mary’s stepmother Rebekah is a thankless role. It’s nice to see our beloved “Debra Morgan” as a pseudo-villain, but it pains me to see Carpenter in such a small, insignificant role. I know we all have to pay the bills, but Carpenter’s star should have risen long ago and this film cements that tragedy. Her talent, even as this one-note character, shines beautiful and bright. Give this woman some meaty, kick-ass roles. It’s high time! Besides, we know she can handle it.
Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Miles O’Brien) is the leader of New Bethlehem; Elder Beacon. He’s devout, he’s harsh and he’s a pervert. But is he the one at the center of this mystery? Watch and see. Since I so readily identify him with the goodness and loyalty of Mr. O’Brien, like Carpenter, it was nice to see him in a darker role. And he certainly adds some cache and weight – so needed for the role of a zany religious leader.
This isn’t the scariest thing since – for the sake of an argument – let’s say The Exorcist, but a couple of unexpected “boo” moments had me screaming out loud (always a pleasure!) And the mystery aspect keeps you wanting more (even though I made the call-out much earlier than the filmmakers probably wanted). But there’s a good time to be had here.
Oscar-nominated director, Christian E. Christiansen (2007 Short Film, Live Action Om natten) did a fine job with his actors and the production values on a meager budget of $7 million were quite impressive. Great locations, tons of extras and the cinematography provided spooky atmosphere and several moments clearly borrowed from the Drew Barrymore chase in the original Scream. See if you can pinpoint which ones I’m taking about! Perhaps there’s a Craven fan – rather than a menacing hooded stranger – in the production team’s midst? Hmmmm?
The ending is a bit abrupt, but ripe with lovingly vengeful and deservedly bloody deeds. Other points of the climax didn’t sit well with me, as several other undeserved deaths take place which seemed rushed and unnecessary. It felt like one of those boring old sequel set-ups and a “let’s throw everything at them” kind of ending.
But see it. It’s good. It’s fun. It’s spooky.
You can trust me. Shake on it?
You see how I did that? The title is The Devil’s Hand. Get it?
Ahem. Just watch the movie. Good performances. Great technical work. And Jennifer Carpenter (I’ll watch her in anything).
It’s worth an hour and a half of your time.
The Devil’s Hand is currently available on DVD/VOD.