“NO MONEY.  NO CLOTHES.  NO FEAR!” trumpets the publicity blurb for Umbrage writer/director Drew Cullingham’s “full-frontal apocalypse nightmare” The Devil’s Bargain which does indeed feature more explicit nudity than you can waggle a semi at.  But there’s more to Cullingham’s shoestring psychological horror than just copious tits and cocks. 

The year is 1974 and it’s the end of the world as we know it.  A massive asteroid, amusingly christened Genesis, is on a collision course with the Earth and when it hits will wipe out all life on the planet.  Not even bugs and Keith Richards will survive.  It’s going to be Biblical. 

Still mourning the death of their young son, washed-up artist Adi (Jonnie Hurn) and his young hippy wife Ange (Chloe Farnworth) retreat to the rural idyll where they were happiest determined to get naked, get back to nature, make peace with their demons and each other, make love and face the end together. 

But their fragile peace is shattered by the intrusion of voyeuristic photographer Luca (Dan Burman) who’s intent on documenting not just Armageddon but also Adi and Ange ‘Armageddoning’ it on.  Mysterious and charismatic, Luca disturbs and provokes Adi, fascinates Ange, seems to know more than he should about their relationship, tempts them with hidden knowledge, concealed truths, worming his way between them, seducing, destroying.  As long-nursed sexual, emotional and psychological tensions boil over into rage, recrimination and violence, the end can’t come soon enough…     

Released on Video On Demand on the 17th of January, Drew Cullingham’s The Devil’s Bargain is a sneaky little wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I was never a huge fan of Cullingham’s cult British vampire flick Umbrage but it was a fun, if slight, affair and I was expecting more of the same to be honest.  Cheesy lines.  Jiggly bosoms (is there a better variety?).  Some forgivably naff acting.  There I was settling down to enjoy what I thought would be a sleazy, fun little smutfest, instead I got a raw, angry, melancholic study of love, loss and a relationship disintegrating under the weight of grief, infidelity and madness.  With the end of the world as a backdrop.  It’s like Lars von Trier was holidaying in Berkshire and decided to make a movie.  Did I mention I watched this over Christmas?  Ho, ho, ho.  

Mixing 8mm, stills and film, The Devil’s Bargain is visually striking, Cullingham shooting much of the film with a pinhole camera, flooding the frame with light, saturating the colours and giving each shot an almost infinite depth of field, lending the film a lush, misty, dreamlike quality of eroticism and dread.  Drawing on the Biblical myth of Adam and Eve’s seduction by the serpent and expulsion from Eden (there’s a lot of apple and snake visual motifs), with echoes of downbeat, intimate apocalypse movies like Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day On Earth or Don McKellar’s Last Night as well as von Trier’s Antichrist and Melancholia, The Devil’s Bargain has a loose, semi-improvised feel.   

Cullingham makes a virtue of his no-budget by keeping his crew small and shooting over just four Summer days, working with actors willing to bare their souls as well as their bodies, their performances raw, intimate, with Hurn  and the gorgeous Farnworth particularly good while Burman makes a playfully malicious nemesis.  Is he real?  Is he a figment of Adi’s tortured psyche?  Is he the Devil himself?  Is the world even ending or is it just Adi’s?  Cullingham keeps things refreshingly ambiguous and, while nothing too unpredictable happens and the film does fall apart a little in the last quarter of an hour, The Devil’s Bargain is a fresh, original, ambitious vision that deserves more than just a VOD release.  Oh, and the publicity wasn’t lying.  There’s more than enough nudity to waggle a semi at.

VERDICT: [rating=3]

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