WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS is an Ambitious American Indie Horror Vision

Where the Devil Roams just may be one of the most ambitious and intriguing American indie horror films to come out of 2023. The modestly budgeted feature is the latest by the Adams Family (Hellbender) and follows a family of carni serial killers as they travel along the carnival circuit taking out those unfortunate enough to cross their paths during the Depression era. The family uses their rather lame song and dance act to mask their town to town killing spree, that has the step mother Maggie (Toby Poser) usually doing the heavy lifting, while the daughter Eve (Zelda Adams) photographs the grisly aftermath. The father Seven (John Adams), thanks to his PTSD from the war, and his fear of blood, is usually relegated to a corner till the carnage has subsided. It’s an odd mix for sure, but it’s how the film uses the family dynamic to invest us in these damaged characters, who are just killing time until they can find a better act.

One of the things Roams has that immediately impressed me was its cohesive audio/visual aesthetic. The look of the cinematography that evolved and devolved throughout the film, the thrifted production design and the tattoo/pierced cast who could legitimately act really drove home this faux vintage rockabilly world. I can’t stress enough, when you have a film that leans so hard visually or into a genre “style”, the first thing to often be sacrificed usually is the performances, especially in horror. After all, you want a person with a “look” on a budget, and performance is usually the third thing on that list and the first to be overlooked. But here all the leads and support, not only have a look, but also have the bonafides to back up these fractured characters. That along with its atmospheric 90’s rock soundtrack made the film feel at times like a feature length music video that would have shown on 120 minutes at 2 am in the late 90s.

All these influences, and some really grisly practical effects sort of coalesce together into this surreal story that almost turns into a visual poem at times, as the family eventually makes a pact with the devil and in the process become the hit of the carni circuit, with their shocking new act – but it definitely comes at a price. The film utilizes a fictional myth and artifact involving a devil that facilitates not just being able to remove an appendage and reattach it, but also reanimating the dead. This last bit comes in handy when one of the family’s home invasions goes south, which informs the final, chilling act of the story. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect in the film’s final moments, but it definitely managed to still defy expectations as the film somehow leaves you with a resounding punch to the gut with its finale. 

Where the Devil Roams is the thinking man’s Terrifier 2. It’s of course got the kills and the gore, but it’s also got the story, the ambiance, and some truly engaging and unnerving performances. It also had an interesting mythology and consistent visual aesthetic and that’s not an easy ask for low budget films trying to tackle a period piece. I was never pulled out of the narrative and nothing really struck me as out of place in the production, which was surprising. Where the Devil Roams feels like a blood drenched breath gasp of fresh air in this indie landscape filled with countless throwback slashers and mean spirited gorefests. It’s very much its own creature and it has something to say about poverty and those that are overlooked or passed over.

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