#299 -- The Devil's Carnival (2012)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Rating: 3 / 5

I didn't know anything about this movie going into it. I found it on Netflix, and I thought it sounded interesting. The synopsis Netflix gave me was something along the lines of lost souls being trapped in hell, forced to face the sins they committed. It sounded pretty cool. But, little did I know, it was directed by the same guy who directed Repo! The Genetic Opera. I didn't like "Repo," so if I had known that going in, I probably would have been more hesitant about it. On the other side of things, if I'd known that he also directed three Saw movies, I probably would have been more hopeful; I probably would have also been more disappointed. Anyways, the point is, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I saw that Emilie Autumn was one of the stars, which intrigued me. I don't know that much of her music, but she does have one song that I happen to love. Seeing her name should have given me a little hint as to what I was getting into, but I guess I'm naive. I had no idea that I was about to watch a musical. The lead singer for one of my favorite bands, Five Finger Death Punch, was also in the movie; but I didn't care for his part, or the song that he sang, which is a huge disappointment.

What Netflix told me was pretty much spot on, because that's pretty much all there is to it. At the beginning, we see three people die. One was John, who committed suicide in his bathroom for unknown reasons. The second was Tamara, who was apparently murdered by her abusive boyfriend or husband. The third was Merryweather, a jewel thief, who we can assume was killed by police once they caught up with her. The movie is narrated by The Devil, who tells the stories from a book of Aesop's Fables. John wanders around Hell looking for his son, though I have no idea what his son might have been doing there. I think that maybe his son had died, and that was the reason that he killed himself. The Devil did say something about him giving into grief, so it makes sense. But toward the end, it hints that maybe John hated his son and wished that he'd never been born, so again, why was he looking for him in Hell? I'm not sure if his "sin" was the hatred for his son, or the simple fact that he committed suicide. I don't understand why Tamara was there at all. Again, it looked like she was killed by an abusive man, so why should she be blamed for that and sent to hell? Once she got there, she met a guy they called Scorpion. He asked for her help, and promised to protect her. Once he gained her trust, he killed her. This is the fable that I actually recognized, "The Scorpion and the Frog." I guess her sin was that she trusted people too easily, but is that really a sin at all? Merryweather was understandable. She was a thief, she was greedy, and no matter how much she had, it was never enough. She lost everything gambling to gain more possessions.

I didn't really understand the story. I didn't get why these people ended up there, and I didn't understand the things that happened to them once they were in Hell. There was also very little character development. That, and the fact that their stories were impossible to understand, made it very difficult to care at all. The musical aspect of the movie was better than the story, though not by much. They sounded good, and all of the singers were talented; but the songs weren't catchy enough to love, and they were hard for me to understand without looking up the lyrics. Even then, I didn't get the point that they were trying to make. Visually, the movie was incredible. It was all cast in an eerie red lighting, to create more of a Hellish atmosphere, and it looked wonderful. The carnival setting was absolutely beautiful, and all of the demons were great. There were also some ladies dressed like little gothic dolls, and they definitely were easy on the eyes. I was engaged throughout the movie, and interested in seeing where it went next. But sadly, it didn't really go anywhere.

Overall, I think it was a good idea that didn't quite work out. I liked the premise, but it was too hard to follow and I didn't understand the story it was trying to tell. I liked it better than Repo, but not by much. In fact, I feel like I'm reviewing Repo again, because I said basically the same things about it: good idea, but it didn't play out all that well. But with The Devil's Carnival, I at least didn't feel annoyed at the musical aspect of the movie. So I guess I've go to give it props for that.


  1. John didn't hate his son. When he shouts that the boy shouldn't have born, it's because the pain he is feeling hard on him that part of him wishes his child hadn't been born because then he wouldn't have to feel the loss. He feels guilty for feeling that way about his child, how part of him wishes the boy never existed so he wouldn't be grieving, between his grief and his guilt he committed suicide.

    As for Tamara, she constantly got herself involved in bad relationships over and over and over again and always saw herself as the victim every time but never learned or progressed from it. When you constantly make a choice to put yourself into a bad situation then you are just as much at fault as the other person.

  2. The movie was essentially a commentary on religion. I don't know if you caught it but the doll maker at the beginning and end was God. He threw away countless dolls that had only slight imperfections, sentencing them to go to Hell for little things. That was the point of the movie; John went for his grief, and Tamara for being naive, neither of which are really sins. There were also a lot of comments like one from Lucifer that was something along the lines of "I don't murder innocent children, that's God's jurisdiction".

    As for John's son--if you pay attention to what John says and does, especially in his song at the end, it tells what happened. Basically he and John fought, and John said that he wished his son had never been born (which was why he started crying and apologizing when he was talking to Lucifer). The son ran away and was hit by a train ("dark are the strangers/that sleep on the train/there's blood on their cots/and bones on their plates" - this refers to a phrase "blood on the passenger seats" that's used when a train runs over someone and the passengers have to live with that knowledge), and John blamed himself and committed suicide because of it ("there's a bed for the boy/and a rope for the father"). He was looking for his son the whole time at the carnival because none of them remembered why or how they died.

    The 3 stories told were The Dog and Her Reflection (Merrywood), The Frog and Scorpion (Tamara), and The Devil and His Due (John). The Dog and Her Reflection is about a dog carrying a bag of jewels across a river, and she sees her reflection and wants the jewels so badly that she doesn't realize it's her reflection, so she attacks the dog in the water, drops the jewels, dives in after them, and drowns. Merrywood was so busy greedily stealing jewels around the carnival that she didn't recognize her own self playing against her at the carnival game to get the diamond. She was so caught up in getting more that she didn't realize that she was dooming herself.

    At the end of the movie, John is sent to Heaven by Lucifer, having redeemed himself by decided he wasn't going to grieve anymore. The point of the carnival to is send the people through their "sins" again and again (shown with Tamara if you watched long enough to see the "In All My Dreams I Drown" scene during the credits, where Lucifer seduces and kills her) until they learn their lesson and can go to Heaven. Though originally they only wanted to torture the guilty, at the end of the movie Lucifer decides to make sure everybody is redeemed and sent to Heaven so that he has enough "sinners" there to help him take over. The song "Grace for Sale" at the end tells about his plan ("Once upon a time/Heaven was a towered tower/tethered in its pride/Castor's grace is sour, sour/thought the ink was dried/but Hellish gardens flowered/ivy to be climbed/spread my filth, my wings, my weeds my weeds"). It sets the story up for the second movie, which is currently in pre-production and will focus on the war between Heaven and Hell.

    It's definitely not an easy movie to understand. It has a lot of symbolism and hidden meaning in it that takes a while to dig into to get. I personally think it's brilliantly written and pulls together such controversial and complex ideas wonderfully, but it's not for everybody. The soundtrack was definitely less impressive than I expected (of course I'm a big Repo! fan too so I was expecting a lot more) but I didn't dislike it. Some of the songs I thought were performed excellently by the cast and had a lot of meaning to them.