Devil’s Workshop (2022) Needs More Fine Tuning
Title: Devil’s Workshop
First Non-Festival Release: September 30, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Chris von Hoffmann
Writer: Chris von Hoffmann
Runtime: 86 Minutes
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Timothy Granaderos, Emile Hirsch
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Actors have a reputation for doing many strange things to land a part or perfect their character for a new project. Some even say that these ventures go too far to the detriment of the actors and those around them.
This is especially true for Clayton (Timothy Granaderos), an actor in his mid-thirties struggling to break in the industry. After landing a callback for a part as a demonologist and discovering his rival Donald (Emile Hirsch) is up for the part as well, Clayton decides to enlist the help from the real deal: Eliza (Radha Mitchell). Once famous for her work on a reality television show, Eliza is more than happy to give Clayton a crash course in the dark arts. But is that her only intention?
Tepid supernatural horror Devil’s Workshop fails to light a sufficient fire for its slow burn story.
The problems in Devil’s Workshop start immediately. A chaotic opening with little sense of timing or world building, Devil’s Workshop jumps around too much making it impossible to focus in on the important parts of its story. While it achieves its goal of showcasing all the major players at once, it fails to get the viewer hooked or achieve a state of suspense. Furthermore, while these connections do eventually overlap in the end, their prominence in the first ten minutes diminishes their impact once the story begins to unravel.
A mostly useless subplot pads the runtime but ultimately serves as little more than a time suck in an already thin story. What seems more like a vehicle to showcase Emile Hirsch than provide any substantive backing to the film, Donald, and his girlfriend Nikki (Sarah Coffey) and her friend Petra (Brooke Ramirez) spend an evening together. They speak about the supernatural to get Donald prepared for the callback audition. Aside from one fakeout scare, there is truly nothing necessary in this aside. In any other script this would be trimmed but in Devil’s Workshop it continues for at least ten minutes of the film. One might say it would be for characterization, but very little development is achieved either in Donald’s arc or the story as a whole.
Throughout the film, there is very little effort to dive deeper into the minds of its leading players. While each of the three main characters, Clayton, Eliza, and Donald get sizable screentime and ample opportunities to command attention, little growth happens. Both Eliza and Clayton ebb and flow with each other, but Eliza’s volatile mood swings do little than forecast the obvious twist. Her character doesn’t change much in that time, which is very similar to Clayton. Donald's cowardice comes through in a charged argument with his girlfriend but ultimately, he learns nothing, doesn’t change, nor present differently. Even Clayton’s capacity for growth is stymied by his short-lived stay in the spooky suburban home. Their flat journeys make the film feel especially static in its dialogue heavy second act.
More of an afterthought than a fully fleshed out take, Devil’s Workshop makes a few subtle gestures towards the entertainment industry. It’s a well-known fact that actors are often put in positions where they must participate in the cutthroat fight to the death with other struggling artists. It makes a few nods to this toxic culture, namely the social climbing and the fake friendships, but doesn’t yield much beyond that.
While the story is a letdown and the film fails to conjure any real scares, it has its moments. A few scenes are visually interesting, giving the picture more life than expected. It isn’t consistently dynamic in its approach to film but a few choice dramatic moments create enough tension to warrant a tip of the hat to the creators. Additionally, Radha Mitchell and, to a lesser extent, Timothy Granaderos are great in their roles. Mitchell teeters between the sultry, the dangerous, and the comical as the mysterious demonologist with enough grace. Even when she doesn’t land, it still gives the picture enough fire to keep going.
Following the trend of a slew of recent releases, Devil’s Workshop edges the viewer with the promise of suspense for a bonkers third act that ultimately doesn’t materialize. Mitchell and Granaderos both give serviceable performances that anchor the flimsy script and the direction gives the film a more exciting feeling than expected but in the end, the writing drags the tale down to a place of no return. It’s best advised not to go looking for demon advice on Craigslist, much like it isn’t advised to hurry up and catch this film unless you are dying for more possession horror features in your life.
Overall Score? 4/10