Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Greg Olliver
Writer: Marc Landau
Producer: Julie Buck, Marc Landau, Greg Olliver, Karim Raoul
Stars: Marta Milans, Kara Jackson, Bruno Gunn, Tyler Hollinger, Luis Harris, Sal Rendino, David Conley, Amy Landon
A young immigrant struggling to earn money for her sick son comes to wonder if ghostly visions in the restaurant where she works may be affecting her mind.
“Devoured” filmed in 2011, played sporadic theatrical screenings after a German premiere in 2012, saw its European DVD release in 2013, and finally landed stateside via VOD during the latter half of 2014. When an independent horror film leaves a three-year-long trail of piecemeal exhibition, it is often an indicator of quality so low that no distributor is willing to afford it a timely worldwide commitment. Yet in this instance, it is more likely a case of “Devoured” being so challenging to categorize with traditional expectations that marketing managers were probably stumped over how to sell it to a broad audience.
It’s not that “Devoured” is difficult to “get,” or that it is so far outside the norm as to completely defy description. But it does bear a tonal quality that makes accurately articulating its strange ability to hold intrigue, despite a deliberately slow tempo, a task easier said than done.
Lourdes is an El Salvadorian transplant doing thankless labor in a New York restaurant so that she can send money back home for her sick son Oliver’s operation. An average day for Lourdes includes a shower, a subway ride, a stop at the mailbox, and a host of trivial activities certain to try the patience of those in a hurry to see if this goes someplace, and where that might be exactly.
The restaurant manager throws daggers of disdain with her eyes while the head chef’s lustful leers are accompanied by shameless hands. It remains unclear if Lourdes has actually committed some transgression to earn their enmity. What is clear is that Lourdes is alone even when among others, and this isolated world mentally torments her in multiple ways.
Lourdes has waking nightmares of chalk-faced ghosts shambling in the shadows. She compensates by escaping into fantasies of time spent with her son in less gloomy surroundings. She falls under such a spell, as does the viewer, that borders delineating dream, imagination, memory, and reality crack as each scene melts into a cold portrait of Lourdes’ troubled psyche.
How literal are the black-eyed phantoms that only Lourdes can see? What is Oliver’s unspecified illness and how might it play into the manifestations of her mind? The uphill climb through Lourdes’ mostly mundane life crests in a “Usual Suspects”-style climax revealing how every sequence before that point does not tell the full story. This turn of events has become a prime topic of discussion regarding “Devoured,” although to misappropriate Ralph Waldo Emerson, the quiet artistry of the film makes its meaning more about the journey than the destination.
The deeper appeal of “Devoured” is its cinematic illustration of an expatriate mother struggling for normalcy in a passively hostile environment. As a mostly one-woman show, Marta Milans is outstanding as Lourdes, with a blank slate beauty that can take on shades of determination, heartbreak, anger, or frustration as called upon by her character. She is the magnetic linchpin in how writer/director Greg Olliver maintains the movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere even when wading deep in montages of vegetable chopping and ambling down hallways.
Any remark about the film’s ability to hypnotize would be remiss with mentioning the soundtrack, credited as original music by Carly Paradis and music provided by Sencit Music. The piano-centric themes beautifully complement Lyle Vincent’s cinematography and without a score this strong, “Devoured” would no doubt have a more challenging time conveying its mood. The music suggests darkness without being melancholy, mystery without being over-orchestrated, and tension without being loud. It is not quite horror, not quite drama, and not quite thriller, but somewhere touching all three, which is precisely the same indeterminate space occupied by the movie itself.
Up for argument is whether or not “Devoured” really needs all of the real estate it occupies. In truth, it is a lead up and a payoff that would have dealt a fiercer blow as a half-hour “Twilight Zone” episode, or maybe a one-hour “Outer Limits.” It doesn’t exactly drag, but 90 minutes strung along at a steadily subdued hum wanes interest enough that its impact is softened. For some, it taxes focus enough to warrant tuning out completely. Though anyone game for a paced exploration of how the overlooked and the marginalized deal with their demons will find “Devoured” to be thoughtfully haunting.
Review Score: 70