A dispossessed, violent man’s life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation.
Set in mountainous Sevier County, Tennessee, in the 1960s, “Child of God” tells the story of Lester Ballard (Scott Haze), an impoverished man who has no family or friends and has just been evicted from his late father’s estate. The movie follows Lester as he slowly regresses into a caveman mentality and his life gradually spirals out of control as he plunges further and further into a life of lawlessness and depravity. It is virtually impossible to take your eyes off Scott Haze in a career-defining role that will stay with you long after the movie is over. He portrays Lester with complexity that is effectively chilly infused with random moments of sensitivity and while there are some scenes that are difficult to watch, you find yourself powerless to turn away.
“Child of God” doesn’t play out like most conventional movies, instead, we follow Lester from the moment he is evicted from his father’s house right up to the last shot of the movie with him walking barefoot across a Tennessee field. Lester comes across an old cabin that has been unoccupied for some time and he quickly makes it his own and manages to salvage an old, decrepit mattress which he sleeps on near the open fireplace. One day while out scavenging for food, he comes across a car sitting idle at the side of the road. When he checks inside he finds a young man and woman, both dead and proceeds to have sex with the woman’s corpse. After he finishes, he scurries away but shortly after, he returns and empties the man’s wallet and takes the woman’s corpse back to his cabin.
While there, he has conversations with her and he finds himself falling in love and makes his way into town where he buys her a new dress. During the night however, the temperatures drop to below freezing and after having thrown extra wood onto the fire, he wakes up to find the cabin ablaze and barely manages to escape with his life. He watches on helplessly as his new ‘love’ burns along with the rest of the wooden building. Over time, Lester becomes more and more detached from everyday normal life, transforming into a depraved and dissolute savage. He kills more young women and drags their bodies back to his current haunt, a series of caves in the mountains. Outraged, a local lynch mob track him down and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t tell them where the bodies are. He agrees and proceeds to lead them to the caves but once there, he manages to escape.
The film is based on the book of the same name by author Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote “All the Pretty Horses”, “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men”. “Child of God” is an unflinching look at a man who has fallen outside the conventions of what society calls ‘normal’. With no family, no friends and eventually, nothing to live for, Lester slowly unravels and watching the transformation is both unnerving and heartbreaking. Director James Franco has constructed an unforgettable film that is both mature and patient. He takes his time telling the story and we are better off because of it and while Mr. Franco also appears in the movie albeit briefly, as a member of the aforementioned lynch mob, the real star of “Child of God” is Scott Haze who turns in a mesmerizing performance. Highly recommended.
In select theaters August 1st in these cities: New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas, Chicago, San Diego, Tampa, Tulsa, Tempe, with more cities to follow
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