It is usually pretty easy to summarize different categories of debut filmmakers. There are those few that come out of nowhere with something so unique and audacious, like David Gordon Green (George Washington) for example, it remains in your mind forever. Other starter filmmakers think they can combine their cinema influences and dab in some cinema references thinking the audience won’t mind the severe banality. Then there are others, like Quentin Tarantino, which try and combine their influences and add a splash of originality to make something unique. “Devils Are Dreaming” is the debut feature by writer/director Michael Sladek, and while he took many steps in the right direction, it seems that he stuck too close to his influences (like David Lynch) instead of trying something dissimilar with the film.
The film’s main character, Joe Avedon, proves an age old theory correct: just because you want to be an artist, doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it happen. He is a failed renaissance man of the art world and he has tried it all (painting, sculpting, music, poetry, music, etc) but nothing pans out as well as he would like. That doesn’t stop him though; he has a part in a play (where he learns early on that his part has been cut), writes porn reviews for a skin magazine, and he is writing a screenplay for another film about the Holocaust (which in itself is a hard job after “Schlinder’s List).
Due to the overloading stress of both failing in the art community and working too much, Joe starts having a breakdown that David Lynch would love. He starts waking up as someone completely different, but unlike “Lost Highway,” Joe knows the characters he becomes. One time he becomes his play director and another instance, he becomes a porn director working with his editor. All of these new personalities that he becomes do have a correlation with his life, yet sometimes the audience may wonder where exactly this is going and what the character is going to get from these experiences.
In the midst of these alter-personality jumps, sometimes long and monotonous “experimental theater” monologues explode on screen. Some of them assist with both the tone of the film and the mood/feeling of the character, while others just try too hard to be creative and instead just test the viewer’s patience.
Something that works perfectly for that though, is, as the credits proudly proclaim, the highly inspired ‘punk score’ by The Sobs and Stupid. Their music, both of the slow and fast style, boosts the nature of Joe’s collapse with near perfection. With that being said, Stephen Donovan gives a great performance as both the despondent protagonist and the many characters he transforms into. When those conversions happen, he plays the “what the hell is going on here?” phase brief and earnest, and has no problem changing into the personalities of these characters; making it known he is then different from his Joe persona.
“Devils Are Dreaming” isn’t a perfect film, nor is it a horrendous Paul W.S. Anderson film either. Sladek is an interesting new voice in the cinema world and although this film needs some work, I’d like to see what he does next.