What a way to end the New York City Horror Film festival, terrified and giddier than a 12-year-old school girl going to a One Direction concert. Seriously, Devoured completely floored me in almost every cinematic sense, and was a true stand out when compared to other festival feature presentations. Director Greg Olliver and writer Marc Landau shook the stigma that comes along with independent horror filmmaking, being looked at as a genre which either shoots for nothing but absurdity (ThanksKilling 3) or becomes a low-budget copy-cat of recent trends. Olliver’s film is neither of those characterizations, standing along as a strong paranormal tale and brilliant character driven thriller. Who says horror is a dying genre?
Landau set the table with a tight ghost story, telling the paranormal hauntings that plague one single mother as she goes about her night job cleaning a restaurant. Lourdes (Marta Milans) came to America so she could raise money for her ill son’s operation back home, and works herself to the bone for her child, sending back money every chance she gets. But when strange apparitions start appearing and Lourdes senses unearthly occurrences around the restaurant, she begins to fear staying alone during her shift. We watch as she deals with whatever forces are at hand, pushing Lourdes to the edge of comprehension.
Bravo to actress Marta Milans, because she was the reason Lourdes’ situation was so terrifying. I’ll get to Olliver’s direction and stage setting later, because right now this is all about Marta Milans and what a captivating performance she put on as our tormented lead.
Already suffering from separation anxiety and a mother’s lonely wish just to see her son, Lourdes is psychologically battered further when her nights seem more like a shift cleaning some sort of haunted kitchen. Milans does an excellent job getting into her strong-willed character, determined to tough out whatever phenomena is happening for the betterment of her son, but at the same time tragically displays her character’s slow breakdown and ever-increasing paranoia. It’s a terribly disheartening scenario, watching Lourdes grow more skittish and beaten, but it’s impossible to ignore Milans’ impressive performance, evoking emotions such as compassionate sympathy overlaying the conflicting existence of fear. Marta Milians gave an inspired and captivating performance for a challenging character that required numerous layers of depth, which will no doubt be the launching point for a fruitful career.
Milans wasn’t the only high point of Devoured though, as our budding genre director Greg Olliver showed an astute eye for horror cinema, presenting beautifully angled shots that capture large amounts of the rich settings. Be it the classy chic restaurant upstairs or the dungeonous and ominous basement below, Olliver’s shot selection was never wasteful or misguided, and presented each moment in a visually pleasing collection of storytelling. This knack for cinematic pleasantry was not only impressive, but was crucial for pieces that required tension or horror, be it perfect lighting or only getting glimpses of the demons Lourdes now sees. Olliver made sure to never really throw the evil in your face, keeping pulled back far enough most of the time to only catch glimpses of ghoulies while ensuring the feeling of looming fear stays alive, showing more of a stalking beast instead of “BOO, HERE’S A GHOST!”
On that note, Devoured is absolutely a slow-burn thriller, setting up atmosphere and story over “in-your-face” horror exploitation. Olliver’s film is more unsettling and unnerving than anything, keeping the horror in your head and not front and center. The most crucial factor for such was that Olliver never let go of the psychological game at play, which he absolutely doesn’t, and closes his film with a wonderfully wicked third act that had my eyes glued to the screen in a fit of anxious enjoyment. Landau’s story starts so innocent and loving, about a mother just wanting to do right for her ailing son, but turns so emotionally raw and full of brain spinning horror, translated brilliantly to screen by Greg Olliver. It’s a thing of dark beauty really.
Don’t be fooled or put off by the “independent” moniker assigned to Devoured. Honestly, you should never be, as independent horror can be just as genius and fulfilling as “mainstream” horror, if not more, but Devoured shows no signs of rookie filmmaking, and can easily be compared to big name titles released this year. I truly enjoyed every minute of Olliver’s film, and was especially hypnotized by Marta Milans as main character Lourdes. From magnificent production to all around tantalizing psychological horror, Devoured will surely give you a good haunting, as well as present enough substance to take a hearty bite out of along the way.
A true festival treat, Devoured had me jumping in my seat out of both terror and joy. I can only hope more people find the same enjoyment in Greg Olliver’s film, but I’m pretty sure his impressively taut creeper-feature has much more praise coming his way.