I’ll take a horror short with a message any day! From the fun zombie-esque atmosphere, to the real life illness that spawned the movie, to the fact that Devil Woman was created almost completely by women – there’s a lot to champion here. I was startled by how much I enjoyed this twelve minute mini-movie, and it’s no surprise that it was an official selection at Fantasia International Film Festival 2018 in its Small Gauge Trauma group. Written, directed, produced, and edited by Heidi Lee Douglas, Devil Woman follows three female researchers in the forests of Tasmania, Australia as they document the wildlife and clash with local lodgers hired to decimate their particular spot. Just as the confrontation reaches its high point, an endangered animal’s bite infects one of the women, and she blankets the forest in blood. Also produced by Catherine Williams and featuring cinematography by Meg White, Devil Woman stars Marigold Pazar, Flame Kimbell, Peter Healy, Shaun A. Robinson and Leith Alexander.
Before I continue with the review, I’m going to educate you on this movie’s underlying theme. Conservation, and more importantly, a contagious, cancerous disease that’s wiping out entire Tasmanian Devil packs in the frontiers of Australia. Devil Facial Tumour Disease is pushing the Tasmanian Devil population to the brink of extinction, and the news is going seemingly unnoticed by the mainstream media despite the cute but ferocious creatures being so iconic. Sine 1996, 80% of the Tasmanian Devil population has died off, even as efforts to reintroduce vaccinated members to packs were somewhat successful. If Heidi Lee Douglas’ goal was to shine a light on this struggle and push the knowledge out to cinema viewers, well, I heard her message loud and clear. I even Googled the subject on my own free will to include in this review. Now, the question remains – what do we do from here? Well, maybe Ms. Douglas will let us know with another killer short film!
Devil Woman is what I like to call a slow burner. It starts rather dull, with the women photographing nature, and gradually builds to a blood soaked climax that you’re going to love. Usually I’d criticize such a slow opening, but the natural setting is breathtaking and the camera work is crisp and clear. It was a stunning piece of work that I can only applaud. Unless I missed it, the viewer is unaware of what the women are doing, so the Tasmanian Devil howls can be misconstrued as people, or something much worse, which paves the way for an uneasy level of suspense. What are those sounds? When is something going to pop up? You’ll be waiting, but Heidi Douglas takes the approach that I mentioned earlier, going with a slower build-up that still manages to heighten the level of suspense in Devil Woman. I think we all get a little nervous when there are aggressive Hillbillys in an isolated area with a bunch of attractive women. When the action begins, it’s 28 Weeks Later in its execution, capping things off with a delightful horror punch. This is narrative film at its finest.
Thematically, Devil Woman should be eligible for Oscar Nomination. I love that the Tasmanian Devils, fighting their hardest to stay alive, closely mirror the women’s struggle to save the trees that shelter them. When the one researcher is bit, and seemingly turned into a rage infected freak, she becomes the embodiment of the animal’s plight and the essence of their predatory, territorial nature. I loved this from start to finish. Check it out at a film festival near you. Final Score: 9 out of 10.