For as long as humankind has existed, there has been a fascination with telling stories. These tales can range from those of damnation to salvation and the long road in between. And sometimes, just sometimes, the road doubles back on itself.
Enter The Devil’s Carnival. Created by the same minds that were behind Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Devil’s Carnival follows the story of three souls bound for hell: Tamara, a naïve teenager with an unhealthy love for bad boys, Merrywood, a woman with a bad case of kleptomania, and John, a father who is irrevocably obsessed with his son. Each soul is seemingly bound to repeat the same mistakes in death as they have in life. But even in hell, there may be a shot at redemption.
After suffering from a death that fits each of their lives, they all awaken alone in a strange carnival, with a letter bearing their name nearby. That is where the tests of character truly begin.
The Devil’s Carnival serves as an unusual vehicle for the exploration of themes of damnation and salvation. God himself is portrayed as a clumsy toy maker, putting the finishing touches on dolls that he quickly becomes frustrated with and throws away. It remains open to speculation if the souls bound for hell truly deserve it, for each of them seem to have inherited defects that control their behaviour. If God is their maker, can the toys truly be held accountable for their own actions?
While two of these souls fall prey to their own evils and defects, John’s journey mirrors that of Dante’s in the Divine Comedy. Like Dante, John is pursuing love that has gone missing—but John continues to create his own suffering. But where Dante is guided through the levels of Hell in search of his love, John is caught in feverish visions of what he thinks to be his son. The father obsessed never learns from his own mistakes, even when he discovers more than once that his visions were false. It does not even once occur to him that his young son might not even be on the same plane of suffering that he is – his mind relies so heavily on the fact that his son is near at hand, that trickery by visions manifest themselves into John’s reality.
It is only when John meets the Devil himself that John begins to get closure. But it is only here that we begin to see that the Devil and John are mirrored – the Devil is the son of God that has wandered astray. In the end, John refuses to “give grief her due”. In so doing, he has refused to feed the mixture of love and hatred that he feels for his son, and has ceased to feed the fires that drive the Devil himself. In this ultimate denial, the Devil applauds him and allows John to go to Heaven. But as John crosses into the blessed realm, God can hear the music of the Carnival below. It causes the Creator unbearable pain; the Devil has infiltrated Heaven through John, and the Carnival will continue to grow. Hell has become more of a potent and dynamic force than Heaven itself.
From a fan of Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Devil’s Carnival is somewhat more challenging to connect with on a personal level upon the first viewing. I quite clearly understood what each of these characters had done and why they were going to their appointed fates in the Underworld, but I found it to be a challenge to care about them on a personal level. And while this can be counted as a strike against The Devil’s Carnival, the atmosphere, art style, underlying symbolism, and dialogue paired with the soundtrack were more than enough to make me go back and watch it again. With each re-watching there is something to be gained from those subtle cues that we might miss during the first viewing. (I’m also certainly not complaining that Graverobber from Repo was the voice of the Devil in The Devil’s Carnival.)
For those new to the idea of a musical portraying the war between Heaven and Hell in a rather alternative fashion, I cannot promise that you will like The Devil’s Carnival. Like its predecessor, audience response has always been something of a polarity: either the viewer loved it or hated it. But taking into consideration the fact that this particular film is less than an hour long, I would highly recommend taking the risk. The Devil’s Carnival can be seen on Netflix, and is for sale as a digital download and a limited edition DVD/Blu-ray box set from Carnival’s website