The Devil’s Harmony (2019)
Everything I wanted to know about American high school, I learnt from the movies. Despite going to an ordinary high school in the North of England, a diet of American movies meant that I was more than well-versed in the worlds of jocks, nerds, cheerleaders and the rigid tribalism that makes up your average US school day. Dylan Holmes Williams’ The Devil’s Harmony takes some of these classic tropes of a US High School film (as well as a smattering of other genres) and suffuses it with a uniquely British sensibility.
Keira (Patsy Ferran) is your typical outcast at school, a pale faced Goth shunned by the ‘cool kids’ – in this case, those who play in the school squash team. But she has a little secret: her acapella group can put people to sleep – seemingly permanently – via the power of their singing. So this power is used to make those who have made her life a misery suffer. But handsome Connor (Leo Suter) throws a spanner in the works by wanting to leave the squash team and join her singing group. Will true love – and a good singing voice – conquer the social divide?
The Devil’s Harmony is typified by an understated sense of humour that shifts between different tones. For example, calling the ‘sleeping disease’ CUMS (or Cataclysmic Unrelenting Moribund Sleep) is enjoyably juvenile but there’s also a sharp sense of satire. When Keira complains about bullying, her teacher commends her with the back-handed “Well it’s very good of you to keep quiet about it,” a perfect line to illustrate the uselessness of authority figures in this world.
The final moments – which feature a surprising song – are also played for slight laughs but – for all its humour – the film has an earnestness that is affecting. This is partly due to a wonderful performance from Ferran. She’s physically striking – all dark Gothic looks contrasting with the crisp whites of the squash team – but she’s also joyously deadpan.
Williams’ direction is also strong and confident, with a number of set pieces that work wonderfully whilst packing a lot in within a scant 14 minute run time. Indeed, by rights The Devil’s Harmony should be a complete mess as it tries to pack in influences and ideas from the likes of Tim Burton, classic Hollywood musicals and much more. But this feels a completely controlled and contained piece of world building that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.
There is also a sense of English ‘genteelness’ which works wonderfully when juxtaposed with the subject. A US school may be in fear of guns and violence. In the UK we’re afraid of the choir singing at us.
The horror trappings of The Devil’s Harmony have made it popular on the genre circuit but it has also found much favour in more traditional festivals and the film has already won many plaudits including the Jury Award for International Fiction at this year’s edition of Sundance. It’s well worth checking out as it’s not only a supremely entertaining piece of work but also marks Williams as a major talent to look out for in the future.
The Devil’s Harmony is now available to watch online as part of Sundance London. Go to https://london.sundance.org/ for more details.
Country: UKLanguage: English
Runtime: 14 mins
Director: Dylan Holmes Williams
Producer: Nathan Craig
Screenwriters: Jess O’Kane, Dylan Holmes Williams
Cinematographer: David Wright
Editor: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi
Co-Producer: Anthony Toma
Cast: Patsy Ferran, Leo Suter, Bobby Schofield, Guy Henry