One of the first films I had the pleasure of viewing at last year’s New York Film Festival was James Franco‘s Child of God. I was certainly in for a ride. Below is my original review.
Child Of God is a new film with James Franco in the director’s chair. Based upon the 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, we are introduced to Lester Ballard. Clearly a social outcast both physically and emotionally, he lives in the woods, barely surviving off squirrel meat. One day he comes upon a car with two deceased teenagers and proceeds to rape the young girl. Deciding not to slip away quietly, he takes her body to an abandoned shed where he lives for a while. Clearly with no sense of relationships, he treats the body as if it is still alive; buying it clothes and food, perhaps to somehow justify the nightly necrophilia. Due to an accident, the shed and the girl are burned to ash. This is merely a small deterrent to Lester’s behavior as eventually he moves into the local West Virginia caves and continues to wreak havoc on the small town.
This film holds nothing back. Minutes in you have witnessed both masturbation and defecation. It does not let up from there. While it is truly disturbing, there is everything to be said about how we treat people on the outside of what we consider our social norms. Small snippets of voice-over are used to tell stories of our protagonist throughout. As they sound more like rumors than truth, we can see how an individual could be driven so far mad and where such labels may get their beginnings.
Franco is a social media king. A self-promoting enthusiast. We’ve all seen him on late night and his Instagram account (http://instagram.com/jamesfrancotv). I know this because I follow him. The man works not-stop. I am not quite sure when he actually sleeps. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised last Fall. Skyping with Franco afterwards was a joy. He proved to be an extremely bright and articulate gentleman. I will always be a fan. The direction is truly masterful. Stunningly shot and well scripted, there is never a dull moment.
The real hero of this project is ScottHaze as Lester. Franco discovered him as a friend of a friend. Scott immediately immersed himself in the role by moving to the Tennessee woods for 3 months prior to shooting.He lost 45 pounds and slept in caves. Talk about method. When you see him in this film, you will be on the same page. “Give him all the awards, put him in every movie. Please and thank you.”
Child of God, is an intense experience. If you have the stomach for the subject matter, seek it out. If you want to see a brilliant character study, find this film. If you are intrigued by the oddity of human behavior, you have hit the jackpot.
CHILD OF GOD comes to theaters today, August 1st.
Directed by: James Franco Written by: James Franco, Vince Jolivette Based on the book by: Cormac McCarthy Starring: Scott Haze Runtime: 104mins ContentAdvisory: Nudity, Language, Sexually Explicit, Violence
A version of this review first appeared on www.TheArtsWire.com