Every now and then, a horror feature comes along that is nearly unclassifiable within subgenres. Devil’s Workshop is something of a cult movie, but also a gripping tale of psychological terror. Set in the world of filmmaking and endless acting auditions, writer/director Chris von Hoffmann (Monster Party, Phobias) goes full meta by embracing a simple, nightmarish concept. Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, The Crazies) and Timothy Granaderos (13 Reasons Why, Who Invited Them) headline a veritable feast of showcases for their talent.
Clayton (Granaderos) has been acting for close to fifteen years now, yet has little to show for it. His family members are constantly leaving him voicemails about how they watched his episode of N.C.I.S. that he ended up being cut from completely. Ultra-douche fellow actor Donald (Emile Hirsch, Alpha Dog, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) seems to be snagging good parts and attention. Clayton cannot even rehearse alone in his apartment without sounds of his roommates shagging loudly bleeding through. In the pursuit of his first big role, Clayton is up for the part of a tortured demonologist. The creatives are looking for someone who can “rip out their soul,” and put it onscreen.
To his honest surprise, Clayton gets a callback for this role. So too does Donald, though the film does not initially follow in that character’s footsteps. The main focus mostly stays fixed upon Timothy’s Clayton. For his role in Psychic Highway, Clayton must fight tooth and nail to secure it. Clayton quickly creates a personal ad looking for an actual demonologist to meet for research purposes. This is how Eliza (Mitchell) becomes involved. The retired actress was once the host of a classic sci-fi mystery show called The Lost Dimension. She has now found her true calling, and privately practices the dark arts in the countryside.
Eliza and Clayton being the core relationship at the center of Devil’s Workshop, I was constantly on the edge of my seat as their performances prickle with sexual tension and a sinister edge. The duo walk a dangerous line—Clayton seems to buy some of Eliza’s culty schtick, but he is constantly skeptical of their activities. She manages to convince Clayton that he has had evil forces penetrate his soul. The only way to cleanse his body of this evil is by performing a sacred ritual that will take one day to prepare for. How far will Clayton go to make sure his role as a demonologist is as authentic as possible?
Long before Clayton is practically nude and covered in blood, there is a weird energy emanating from Eliza. Mitchell does an excellent job of establishing her character, opposite Granaderos. In her home, Eliza has paintings hung up of various demons, including Galvina, the Demon of Desire. Devil’s Workshop effortlessly establishes a playful, disturbing mythology. It was almost giving me Hellraiser vibes, albeit not heavily. What an ending!
Devil’s Workshop is a fun, subversive horror movie with mainly two people at its center. Like the intimate House of Darkness, focusing on a limited cast and establishing an eerie mood before the horror ensues turns out to be a wise choice. I have to give a shout-out to actor Timothy Granaderos, who put this movie on our radar when we interviewed him a couple months back for Shudder’s Who Invited Them. I am always happy to discover more indie horror, and this gem from Lionsgate easily fits the quota. Don’t miss Emile Hirsch’s questionable rapping skills during the end credits!
Devil’s Workshop researches for a role in select theaters, on demand, and digital on Friday, September 30th. On November 8th, one can swoop it up to own on DVD!