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Awaken the Devil
Daniel Falicki is a director whose work I've enjoyed in the past, though he hasn't made a truly exceptional film yet, at least that I've seen. His film All the Devil's Aliens a/k/a Devils in the Darkness from 2013 is a serviceable little thriller, and pretty fun. Sadly, he takes a step backward with 2014's Awaken the Devil a/k/a An Anti American, which suffers from the same faults as the previous film, only more so.
Vernon and Tom Dopple (Jason Roth and Matt Simpson Siegel) are brothers, both homeless, with only each other for company from day to day. Vernon is mute and confined to a wheelchair, but Tom does plenty of talking and moving around for both of them. Though Tom can't see it, Vernon starts to see strange figures on the street, staring at them, and the phrase "You've been chosen" everywhere. Something is up. He's worried, but with only a mini-chalkboard to communicate with, it's hard to get his vague unease across to his brother.
But things take a turn for the worse when they decide (well, Tom decides and Vernon has little choice) to spend the night in an abandoned building. They find themselves visited by dark figures, and discover a dead woman's body and a pentagram painted on the floor in the morning. And they're locked inside. Their relationship goes through some changes as they fight a mostly spiritual battle with an unspecified demonic force.
To be sure, there are things to like about Awaken the Devil. Both Roth and Siegel give really, really good performances. The amount that Roth can convey with only facial expressions, body language, etc. is phenomenal. They have a very organic chemistry, and it's easy to believe that they're brothers. The visual style is kind of cool as well. It's sort of animation on top of live action, but not quite rotoscoped. It's very similar to the style of Future World: City of Mass Destruction, if you've seen that. The semi-animated nature allows the filmmakers to create sets and vistas that they probably wouldn't have been able to afford if it was filmed in a more traditional manner.
However, there are serious flaws. First is the pacing, which is atrociously slow, even more so than All the Devil's Aliens. Scenes that could work well and do all they need to do in thirty seconds last for three minutes or more. Lots of time is spent watching Tom and Vernon stand (or sit, in Vernon's case) on the street panhandling. Without exaggeration, Awaken the Devil could probably have been a twenty five minute short without losing much as far as plot material, but gaining an enormous amount of narrative impact. Another issue is with the plot itself, with is ambiguous to the point of opacity. I'm fine with ambiguity in film, but I like to have some idea of what's going on. That's very difficult here. It has something to do with the anti-christ, and succubi, and Tom and Vernon's relationship. But beyond that, I couldn't tell you.
So, Awaken the Devil is a mixed bag, which despite the very fine performances of its leads leans unfortunately toward the "bad" column. It's worth a watch for their acting turns, but expect a heavy helping of boredom. Rent it.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks good. The visuals are very stylized, as described above, with animation overlays, with grain and drab colors presumably added for effect. Please keep in mind that this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and works well, though not much is asked of it. The dialogue is generally audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included. Please keep in mind that this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The only extras included are trailers for other Falicki films The Last Vampyre on Earth and All the Devil's Aliens. Please keep in mind that this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quantity or quality of the extras included on the final product.
Awaken the Devil is blessed with two very talented and passionate lead actors, but they aren't enough to save it from its plodding pace and confused narrative. There are things that Daniel Falicki does very well, but keeping the story moving along isn't one of them. This film shows the potential lying fallow in him. Let's hope it springs to life with his next films.