Devil’s Workshop is, mostly, a two-hander. An unhappy actor, Clayton (Timothy Granaderos of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why), is trying to gain insight for a role he’s aspiring for. For knowledge, he shadows experienced demonologist Eliza (Radha Mitchell of the Silent Hill film franchise) for the weekend before the pivotal callback audition. Turning the tables on Clayton to probe more about his life, Eliza is eager to perform a ritual on her guest to alleviate woes, pressure, and potential spiritual influences that may be affecting Clayton’s life and career.
I liked the movie’s lead up towards Clayton’s meeting with Eliza. His frustrations towards acting and auditioning are believable, and the feigned support he receives is also very true. Freaks’ Emile Hirsch, who is really starting to carve an interesting career path for himself with playing unsavoury characters, plays a fellow actor who encourages Clayton in the most condescending ways possible. Hirsch is very funny in these first few scenes, including a brief exchange with a desperate acting coach (Demigod filmmaker Miles Doleac in a fun cameo).
This set-up between Clayton and Eliza has potential to be a great pressure cooker between Granaderos and Mitchell (similar to recent indie House of Darkness), but Devil’s Workshop is a harsh thriller. It doesn’t lack nuance because the film has creepy moments and subtle nods between the leads that are more affective than the writing they’re given. But, writer/director Chris von Hoffmann feels the need to interrupt the success with choices that make the film difficult to watch.
The actors are narrowly pushed off the screen by “music video inspired” smash cuts that hit the brakes on any flow the film is trying to maintain. But, the audience’s concentration is really put to the test when Clayton and Eliza are together on screen. The performances by Granaderos and Mitchell are a bit too exaggerated, and their compatibility never clicks. Granted, these characters are supposed to be from different walks of life. However, the performances are always resisting against each other in a way that suggests they’re trying to beat the other to top billing.
Just when the audience is wondering if the movie would be better with more of Emile Hirsch’s role, we find out quickly that the answer is “no”. Hirsch barges back into the movie for some comic relief with two other actors (Sarah Coffey, Brooke Ramirez) – these scenes don’t benefit Devil’s Workshop whatsoever. They belabour Hirsch’s satire as a pretentiously self-taught performer, and the payoff its building towards is anti-climactic.
On a rudimentary level, Devil’s Workshop is unsettling. However, for better results next time, Chris von Hoffmann should – wait for it – workshop his movie and review what’s working within his scenes.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie