Bar none, the highlight of the Fantasia Film Festival for me was Chris Stapp and Matt Heath's THE DEVIL DARED ME TO, one of the most entertaining pictures I've seen all year. It's the picture I'd been most looking forward to seeing, due mainly to the fact that it was produced by my good friend Anthony Timpson, and it pleases me to no end to say that it does not disappoint. I love it when my friends succeed.
DEVIL is a stunt comedy - that is, a comedy about stuntmen - and it doesn't do anything other than make you laugh a lot and give you a really good time at the movies. There's no subtext, no satirical underbelly, not much about it that distinguishes it from, say, a Will Ferrell movie. It's a simple comedy with a lot of jokes thrown at you in rapid succession and it's over before you know it. But like most really good comedies, even the ones without much substance, it has something that sets it apart: ambition. THE DEVIL DARED ME TO feels like the work of filmmakers who are hungry to not just please an audience, but to make a movie that's going to be colossally entertaining, a picture that you'll remember years from now, a classic, even. Does it reach those lofty aspiration? Somewhat. I have a big smile on my face when thinking about it and desperately want to see it again, but all that means for sure is that I really like the movie, nothing more. But I also admire the hell out it and that's not something I say about a lot of pictures.
THE DEVIL DARED ME TO was written and directed by the comedy team of Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, who created some of the films' characters on their NZ TV show Back of the Y Masterpiece Television. More of a sketch comedy show with some crazy stunts than another Jackass rip-off, the film takes the character of stuntman Randy Campbell (Stapp) and tells of his dream to become the greatest stuntman in New Zealand, despite a history of all of his family member dying through dangerous stunts. Doing grunt work for second-rate asshole stuntman Dick Johansonson (Heath), he gets his chance when Johansonson (great, great, great fucking name) is sent to jail after attempting to kill Randy during a dangerous stunt. That's pretty much all the plot description you'll need because like I've already said, this is not a plot-heavy movie, but part of its joy is that it's not merely a collection of stupid jokes and loud stunts, because there really is a movie here. Stapp and Heath seem to have been working towards this moment most of their lives and they don't blow it; the film moves at a fast pace, all of the comedy and action is timed and edited expertly and even though it's only 77 minutes long, you leave it feeling more than satisfied but still hungry for more. Timing and rhythm is the key to all comedy and THE DEVIL DARED ME TO gets it just right, with the many jokes never getting in the way of each other or the plotting (despite many thick Kiwi accents). On top of all this, the casting is near-perfect, with Heath's Johansonson easily stealing the film along with excellent support from Andrew Beattie as "Spanner's Dad" and one Ant Timpson as Announcer #2 (the film is worth seeing for him alone). And lastly, I congratulate it for the most judicious use of the "f" word than any film I can think of in a long, long time. It's used often and often used properly and that just one of the many wonderful things about this film.
Augmenting the DEVIL DARED ME TO experience was the fact that there was a bomb scare at Concordia University (where Fantasia's screenings are held) that delayed the film for over an hour, giving certain parties ample opportunity to get good and drunk. So what followed was a spirited Q&A, which included actual stunts (Stapp leap directly into the audience not once, but twice) and a nice shout out to Mr. Timpson. I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time talking to both of them (Matt Heath, especially) and found them to be smart, likable guys who took what they do quite seriously. I have this feeling in my bones that these guys may be the next big thing and that THE DEVIL DARED ME TO (which is locking down a U.S. distributor as we speak) could be a cult hit in the making, and deservedly so. It's fucking great.