An ex-con under house arrest must risk his freedom to save his estranged teenage daughter from his former criminal associates in director/writer Chris Easterly’s feature-length crime thriller Devil’s Hollow.
A favourite book growing up was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a hugely popular and seminal piece of literature. It was also my first encounter with the genre that was known as ‘Southern Gothic’, a creative style that took on gothic themes and placed them in a magical-yet-realistic American South setting. Gone With The Wind was the first major theatrical success, but the majority of Tennessee Williams’ work, as well as Truman Capote who ironically was the basis for the character of Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird, are amongst the best-known exponents of Southern Gothic.
As the writer and director of Devils Hollow, Chris Easterly has given us his own take on this famous genre and, during his film’s 78-minute runtime, he manages to create a few grotesque characters, give us some moments of dark humour, and provides us with an angst-ridden sense of alienation that permeates throughout the entire film. All of those themes are the major ingredients of Southern Gothic.
Shuler Hensley plays Bobby Hawkins, an ex-con released from prison on parole after serving time for a robbery he took most of the rap for in order to save a friend. Once out of jail, he is given a parole officer named Whitaker (the effortlessly enjoyable Patrick Mitchell) and told he has to remain within the boundaries of his farmhouse because he is under house arrest. With some clever writing Easterly manages to find some comedy with Mitchell’s parole Officer. He has very few scenes, but he is a standout during the film with his sudden appearances whenever Hawkins steps out of bounds, raising a smile while his attitude and personality, of which bring to mind the legendary character actor Scatman Crothers. Bobby learns that while he has been incarcerated his ex-lover gave up their daughter, who was placed under the care and protection of her brother, Bobby’s former boss and local crime lord, Harry Casper (a very intimidating David Dwyer). Understandably upset and angry, Bobby tries to reconnect with his old life, but in stirring this hornet’s nest, he puts the lives of both him and those he loves in mortal danger.
One of the major plus points of Devil’s Hollow is its rich cinematography by Nate Spicer and John Stewart. Filmed on location in the town of Knoxville, Tennessee the film has a very mysterious feel to it where you get the impression that you will never really know what goes on down the shadowy passages or in the overly large green and humid gardens. You can almost feel the sweat trickling down your own face. There are also fun nods to the beloved Patrick Swayze movie Roadhouse in the plotting, which itself was a throwback to the old Western tropes seen in Shane and Pale Rider, with a stranger arriving in a small town and helping to clean it up.
Devils Hollow is a slow potboiler of a thriller whose pace may not appeal to an action-hungry audience, but for those of us who are happy to sit down with a glass and bask in a hot and sticky environment surrounded by well-drawn characters, the film remains interesting even when nothing much seems to be happening.