Based on the acclaimed 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel, Child of God tells the story of a young, violent outcast in 1960s Tennessee.
James Franco’s latest film is first-person eyewitness account of Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) who at the onset of the film has been pushed off his land that he previously had been squatting on and that action sets in to motion a tale of isolation, violence and sexual deviancy.
Described as a “child of god” just like yourself, perhaps, Ballard has no family or friends and exists in an almost primitive state slightly a level above a Neanderthal. Lacking conventional social skills and graces, Ballard is unable to form or have relationships with the opposite sex and after a chance encounter with a dead couple he finds on a deserted road, Ballard descends into necrophilia. After he loses his first love, he creates more “relationships” by murdering scores of young victims that he ultimately stores in his isolated cave dwellings as their loved ones hunt for the source of the killers and the missing bodies.
The engine behind the story is the phenomenal breakout performance of Haze, who reportedly lived in caves and dwellings for three months prior to shooting, losing 45 pounds in the process on a diet of one fish and an apple daily. He even developed a unique speaking voice for the character that lends to the audiences’ confusion and mysterious about his motives since he communicates more through his actions than by his words. Haze’s commitment to the character, as it was scripted in the book, makes for plenty of uncomfortable moments and is one of the creepiest character studies onscreen in any film this year.
Hunting the dispossessed outcast is a concerned, yet determined Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson) and Deputy Cotton (True Blood’s Jim Parrick). While aware of Ballard’s violent past, Fate has no solid evidence to hold or convict Ballard, even as he has a strong hint of this loner’s capabilities.
With his current story, The Counselor, playing in theaters now, McCarthy’s work seems to be enjoying a renewed period of popularity. Franco makes the most of this muscular and complex novel and does an adequate job adapting it for the screen, while pairing down huge chunks that still aren’t easy to visually digest.
The result is a film that is sure to be a festival favorite but not one that will enjoy huge box-office. Already tabbed one to watch, Haze is the film’s greatest beneficiaries as he gives face to depravity in a way that will stick with you long after you’ve experienced his amazing work.