Devil’s Workshop opens with Clayton (Timothy Granaderos, Who Invited Them, Plan B) delivering a monologue that sounds like the prologue to a slasher film. It turns out he’s auditioning for the role of s demonologist. Auditioning is something he does a lot of. All the auditions haven’t done much for him though, the one part he actually landed was cut from the finished film.
To make it worse he shares an acting class with Donald (Emile Hirsch, Dig, Midnight in the Switchgrass) who is as obnoxious as he is successful and who is up for the same role. After he’s called back for a second audition he arranges to spend a weekend with Eliza (Radha Mitchell, Run Hide Fight, Rogue) an actual demonologist to increase his chances of landing the part.
Writer/director Chris von Hoffman (Monster Party, Phobias) starts Devil’s Workshop with its focus on its showbiz aspects, there isn’t even a creepy prologue. Even when Eliza enters the story she comes off more like a psychiatrist, “Tell me about your mother”, than anything else. And even as the occult is introduced to the plot it’s in a low-key way with talk of the “psychic disruption” using the internet causes and an exorcism compared to a cleansing. This is occasionally interrupted to show us Donald’s activities, which only makes the film feel even more like a drama than something that’s supposed to be scary.
The only really sinister element we get in the first half of Devil’s Workshop is Mitchell’s performance as Eliza. On the surface, she appears more eccentric than anything else with her New Age chatter, dearies, and cigarette holder. But her expressions and tone of voice, not to mention the goat and vials of blood in her loft, suggest a hidden menace.
Beyond that though, Devil’s Workshop is an almost horror-free horror film for most of the first hour. I waited for anything overt, even a jump scare, but nothing happened. The most horrifying thing we get is the way Donald treats the two women he’s with, tormenting one with details of family tragedies in the name of getting into character. I also was waiting to see how this would link into Clayton’s story but it’s there to be a contrast to it, not a part of it.
It isn’t until the last fifteen or so minutes that Devil’s Workshop remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror movie not some quirky drama about aspiring actors. And even then it’s nothing most viewers won’t have seen before. Even the film’s big gore scene is a bit too familiar. The practical aspects of it are well done, I will give it that. But then it adds some bad CGI which ruins it.
I’m really not sure what von Hoffman was trying to accomplish with Devil’s Workshop. he‘s said in interviews it was meant to be satirical. But unless it’s all an in-joke meant for those working in film and theatre, it’s never really funny. Even the final scene, meant to provide an ironic chuckle only provoked an eye roll and killed any effect the preceding scenes might have had.
As a horror film it never even gets started. There are a few moments when I got a sense of unease but nothing more. Then in the last few minutes, we get a few cliches and a gory climax that felt like it belonged in another film. Having seen his previous work I know he understands the genre better than this, it’s quite disappointing he chose to ignore that knowledge.
Lionsgate has released Devil’s Workshop to Digital and VOD platforms. It will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 8th. If you’re looking for more films like it, FilmTagger has some suggestions.