Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Child of God

Depravity abounds in this James Franco-directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which despite a committed performance by Scott Haze proves a one-note endurance test.

July 31, 2014

-By Nick Schager


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1405188-Child_Of_God_Md.jpg
James Franco wallows around in the backwoods muck with his latest directorial effort, Child of God, an adaptation of the 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel about a psychotic hick named Lester (Scott Haze) whose 1960s Tennessee life is defined by ever-abhorrent behavior. An opening close-up of Lester, his eyes turned upward in a menacing glare that invokes memories of many animalistic Stanley Kubrick protagonists, immediately establishes the feral nature of the story’s main character, who is then shown wildly objecting to the sale of his father’s farm. Split into three chapters, and embellished with a few instances of onscreen text as well as occasional narration from a variety of unidentified speakers, Lester’s subsequent saga is one of amplifying madness, as he sets up new residence in an abandoned woodland cabin, spies on the man who bought his daddy’s home, and gets his rocks off peeping on kids having sex in remotely parked cars.

With spittle flying from his mouth, snot dangling from his nose, and slurry speech emanating from his filthy, beard-framed mouth, Lester exudes unhinged wildness, and his preference for groaning, growling and howling further solidifies him as more rabid dog than civilized man. Voiceover exposition reveals that Lester’s father abandoned him via suicide, though otherwise Child of God provides scant background on its center of attention, content to simply gaze with horrified fascination at Lester, whom Haze embodies with a full-throated lunacy that’s consistently captivating, at least until his screaming-crazy routine reveals itself to be one-note. At that point—which, admittedly, is about a third of the way through the story—the film turns monotonous, even as Lester indulges in increasingly wretched behavior that pushes the film into grim, sadistic territory.

That devolution into depravity commences in earnest via a scene in which Lester finds two dead lovers on the side of the road in their car—a discovery that spurs him to have sex with the woman’s corpse, and then carry her back to his cabin, where he proceeds to continue violating her, albeit after buying her a new dress and some makeup so he can stage an imaginary “date” with her. If necrophilia sounds like a dismal narrative development, it’s merely the catalyst for Lester’s wholehearted embrace of his own primal urges, which—no matter the efforts of the local sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson) and his deputy (Jim Parrack), nor a lynch mob led by Franco himself—eventually turn him into a literal caveman. Like many McCarthy tales, Child of God proves an ugly portrait of man’s inherent brutishness, and the inability of God or society to fundamentally tame that nature. Yet despite Haze’s commitment to his barbaric role, as well as Franco’s bleakly detached direction, the film makes its primary point so early on that it soon finds itself with nothing much to say—and, consequently, winds up becoming little more than a tedious and meandering bit of psycho-hillbilly performance art.

Click here for cast & crew information.


Film Review: Child of God

Depravity abounds in this James Franco-directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which despite a committed performance by Scott Haze proves a one-note endurance test.

July 31, 2014

-By Nick Schager


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1405188-Child_Of_God_Md.jpg

James Franco wallows around in the backwoods muck with his latest directorial effort, Child of God, an adaptation of the 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel about a psychotic hick named Lester (Scott Haze) whose 1960s Tennessee life is defined by ever-abhorrent behavior. An opening close-up of Lester, his eyes turned upward in a menacing glare that invokes memories of many animalistic Stanley Kubrick protagonists, immediately establishes the feral nature of the story’s main character, who is then shown wildly objecting to the sale of his father’s farm. Split into three chapters, and embellished with a few instances of onscreen text as well as occasional narration from a variety of unidentified speakers, Lester’s subsequent saga is one of amplifying madness, as he sets up new residence in an abandoned woodland cabin, spies on the man who bought his daddy’s home, and gets his rocks off peeping on kids having sex in remotely parked cars.

With spittle flying from his mouth, snot dangling from his nose, and slurry speech emanating from his filthy, beard-framed mouth, Lester exudes unhinged wildness, and his preference for groaning, growling and howling further solidifies him as more rabid dog than civilized man. Voiceover exposition reveals that Lester’s father abandoned him via suicide, though otherwise Child of God provides scant background on its center of attention, content to simply gaze with horrified fascination at Lester, whom Haze embodies with a full-throated lunacy that’s consistently captivating, at least until his screaming-crazy routine reveals itself to be one-note. At that point—which, admittedly, is about a third of the way through the story—the film turns monotonous, even as Lester indulges in increasingly wretched behavior that pushes the film into grim, sadistic territory.

That devolution into depravity commences in earnest via a scene in which Lester finds two dead lovers on the side of the road in their car—a discovery that spurs him to have sex with the woman’s corpse, and then carry her back to his cabin, where he proceeds to continue violating her, albeit after buying her a new dress and some makeup so he can stage an imaginary “date” with her. If necrophilia sounds like a dismal narrative development, it’s merely the catalyst for Lester’s wholehearted embrace of his own primal urges, which—no matter the efforts of the local sheriff (Tim Blake Nelson) and his deputy (Jim Parrack), nor a lynch mob led by Franco himself—eventually turn him into a literal caveman. Like many McCarthy tales, Child of God proves an ugly portrait of man’s inherent brutishness, and the inability of God or society to fundamentally tame that nature. Yet despite Haze’s commitment to his barbaric role, as well as Franco’s bleakly detached direction, the film makes its primary point so early on that it soon finds itself with nothing much to say—and, consequently, winds up becoming little more than a tedious and meandering bit of psycho-hillbilly performance art.

Click here for cast & crew information.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Red Army
Film Review: Red Army

Non-hockey fans need not worry: This doc about Russia’s famed late-20th-century ice hockey team isn’t just for the converted. But filmgoers who don’t care a fig about Cold War-era tensions, culture clashes and the USSR’s erosion into the new Perestroika-embracing Russia can retire to the locker room, because these dynamics play big roles. More »

TheHumbling review
Film Review: The Humbling

Al Pacino’s superb performance as an aging, psychologically unraveling actor cannot save this pretentious and flat-footed film. More »

Mommy
Film Review: Mommy

Mom-obsessed Xavier Dolan triumphs with this startlingly original, compellingly watchable character study that is simultaneously hilarious, appalling and sad. More »

Manny
Film Review: Manny

Engaging look at legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao is best for hardcore fight fans. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Paddington
Film Review: Paddington

This feel-good, looks-great first-time big-screen adaptation of the beloved British children's stories about a stowaway Peruvian bear finding his, er, bearings in London is much more than just, oops, bearable. The handsome production greatly benefits from a top-notch cast of some of the U.K.’s finest actors and its beautiful blend of CGI-enriched live action and animated ursine star. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here