Directed by: #ErnestoMSandoval
Written by: #ErnestoMSandoval
When I sat down to watch Ernesto Sandoval’s Mexico-based, Spanish-language short film, I never expected anything quite like this. From its beautifully animated intro to its scenic cinematography and outstanding production design, The Devil’s Son is a stunning piece of filmmaking; a work of mythical realism that Guillermo del Toro himself would be proud to call his own.
“Once upon a time...” - with these being the first words in the film to greet us, and during Ben Judd’s (illustrator) exquisitely animated backstory, the viewer is immediately welcomed into the movie’s fairytale world. We’re told of a greedy and selfish farmer’s encounter with the devil; of how he promised the creature his son in exchange for power and wealth; and of how his wife died preventing the devil from claiming the boy. Outraged, the devil curses the boy (Pedro) with unrequited love: “He would love others, but no one would love him in return.” The only hope for lifting the curse: Accepting the devil as his father.
Many years on and the now-adult Pedro – a brilliantly understated performance from Eduardo Roman – has made good on his promise to reject the devil at every turn. So too has the devil made good on his promise that Pedro will remain unloved. As it is, Pedro lives at home with only the old family horse for company; a companion he cares for deeply. But when past love Rosa – the ever-stunning Malili Dib, in one of her finest performances – arrives at his door, staggered and bruised and fleeing from her abusive partner (a wonderfully villainous turn from Ricardo Dalmacci), Pedro may have to break his oath.
Now, while I resent using the obvious comparison to the works of Guillermo del Toro, the connections here are just too strong not to. It’s not the Mexican influence or setting per se. It’s the whimsy of the folklore grounded in the grittiness of realism, the character-focused story, and the juxtaposition and questioning of humanity and monstrosity. The Devil’s Son also reminded me of a brilliant movie I saw a few years ago called I’ll Take Your Dead, thanks in no small part to its gothic-aesthetic and isolated-desert-farmhouse setting.
This brings me nicely to the next, and my favourite, aspects of the film: the visuals and its setting. The 1950s Mexican setting draws us into its fantasy world and Emre Okten’s exquisite attention to detail and staggeringly-beautiful, frankly, breathtaking cinematography – with its atmospherically lit interiors and sweeping vistas of the landscape’s desolate beauty – bring to full realisation the superb production design on display - great work from Valeria Munguia and Rudy Salas.
What a fantastic piece of filmmaking. A sublime slice of folklore deep-rooted in Mexican socio-cultural history. It’s quite striking just how well-written and how well-made this movie is. Almost every shot from the film is awe-inspiring to behold. The Devil’s Son was put together by people who whole-heartedly believed in the project and loved what they did—and it shows.