Where the Devil Roams - Fantasia World Premiere
Director: Zelda Adams, John Adams, Toby Poser
Starring: Zelda Adams, John Adams, Toby Poser
Written by: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, John Adams
Produced by: Toby Poser
Cinematography by: Zelda Adams, John Adams
Original Score by: John Adams
A family of murderous sideshow performers travel around the world on the dying carnival circuit.
Within the world of horror the Adams Family trio of Zelda Adams, Toby Poser and John Adams are a truly unique group of creatives. Their hands-on approach to filmmaking both in front of and behind the camera is a testament to their endeavour to be true independents within the genre, making the films they want to make in the way they want to make them. Following up from their last feature, the wickedly brilliant 'Hellbender', their latest feature, 'Where the Devil Roams' is a devilish Southern Gothic tale full of murder and corruption.
Set in Depression-era America the film follows performing trio Maggie (Toby Poser), her husband Seven (John Adams) and their daughter Eve (Zelda Adams) as they travel the country with a carnival troupe made up of various side shows. Outside of their performances they make ends meet by murdering those who (for the most part) have wronged them in one way or another.
The first thing that strikes you about the film is the look of it. After the initial prologue in black in white with the Master of Ceremonies (played by Justin Julio) reading a poem on stage, the look shifts to the desaturated colours of blue and grey, reflective of the harshness of the characters lives and the world they live in at this time. It also enhances some of the beautifully haunting shots of the trio in sparse landscapes, heightening the sense of desperation in their situation and the environment at large. In the background to this imagery you can hear a lot of bible bashing preaching heard through radios or people making speeches, which is ironic given how the world the Adams Family create is a godless and vicious one. As the film progresses the colour seeps away reverting back to the black and white based imagery of the prologue, which is highly effective in showing how any drop of humanity left in the main characters is slowly bleeding out of them.
As for the acting, this is the first film the Adams Family branch out with casting in tandem with the scope of the film, but they are still in the leads and do a fine job in their respective roles as they come across as empathetic descendants of Rob Zombie's Firefly family. As Maggie, a poorly educated woman with a penchant for murder, Toby Poser tackles the role with a childlike innocence evoking empathy from her character in spite of their horrific deeds. John Adams is just as the haunted war veteran Seven who has an aversion to blood and violence. He tries to disguise his trauma behind a veneer of normality but you can see traces of it on his face. With the mute character Eve, Zelda Adams gives a duplicitous performance. On the surface she may appear angelic (and her singing voice certainly gives that impression) but you can see the vicious edge to her character bubbling just beneath the surface. Some of her most memorable scenes are opposite the deceptive Mr. Tipps (played by Sam Rodds) who is the star attraction of the carnival thanks to a set of scissors and some black magic. The devilish nature of his character in tempting Eve allows the two to work extremely well together in a Faustian manner.
When it comes to the script the film is very light on plot and lacks any real sense of focus (particularly in the second act) as the killings the trio commit sometimes feel like they blend into one, labouring the film a bit. Despite that these moments also work well at exhibiting the impressively gruesome special makeup effects in the film in all their brutal glory. It can also be said that it is overambitious for the budget restrictions with period costumes, large scale props and even flashbacks to WW1 battles but the effort the Adams family put into realising these elements is nothing short of admirable. Another impressive element of the film is the poetic nature of some of the dialogue as much of it feels like a dark psalm being delivered for an enthralled audience. The one thing that stands out more than anything is the dark humour with one standout moment coming about in the wake of a case of mistaken nationality.
Whilst the Adams family's ambition for the film is never fully realised with so many different story elements at play, what shines through the film more than anything is how it is a labour of love between a group of filmmakers whose unique presence in the genre has to be respected due to their hands on approach in spite of any challenges they face. The elements that do work for it in terms of the script, look and mood makes 'Where the Devil Roams' a winner. It also contains what might be the greatest final shot of any horror film this year as it is guaranteed to linger in your memory long after the credits roll.
- Joseph McElroy
'Where the Devil Roams' received its World Premiere at Fantasia '23 on July 27th