FILM REVIEW – ‘THE DEVIL’S LETTUCE’ (2016)

The Devil’s Lettuce is a 12-minute black and white mockaganda (mock+propaganda) in the vein of 50s and 60s anti-drug films. This short stars Blair Hoyle as an innocent “teen” Jeffrey Hawthrone who succumbs to peer-pressure and takes the new drug called JX375 (“the Devil’s Lettuce”) which makes him go insane, join up with a rabbit-worshipping, communist cult lead by Jaysen Buterin, and almost gets sacrificed to the cult’s leporine deity before cops save his life. Yes, it is a comedy if you were worried, although Mike Mignola probably could’ve written a killer Hellboy story with that plot. It was directed by Adam York and written by Nerd Nation’s very own leporine deity, Dave Harlequin.

DevilsLettuceOfficialPoster

Now, before you get worried that because Dave Harlequin is my boss, I won’t give a fair review of this movie, just know he is NOT paying me for this article. My loyalty only goes so far for free. No one is safe from critics here at Nerd Nation… NO ONE.

This film, as stated above, is a satire on films like Reefer Madness or Curious Alice, taking the ridiculous over-the-top depictions of drug use hand-in-hand with other illicit activities (or even farfetched illegal activity) to discourage youths from partaking in harmful (presumably) substances, and turning them up to eleven, to quote the great Nigel Tufnel. The over-the-top nature of this particular substance abuse seems to be hallucinations believing yourself to be a giant rabbit and instantaneous addiction. This film doesn’t support the use of drugs, but rather is poking holes in the excessive extent that some people take to stop people from deciding for themselves. If you are unaware of the classic propaganda films of years gone by, they are just extended editions of the Truth Campaign’s anti-smoking commercials. It’s the exact same thing. And if you’ve not seen those, you just straight up don’t watch TV.

The short opens and closes with a cue-card-reading and horny narrator, who I’m presuming is a gag on how the most straight-laced looking people are sometimes the kinkiest. He has a strong delivery in that classic tradition of these propaganda pieces. There are a few awkward pauses in his reading, which probably could’ve been better used for subtle facial expressions that foreshadowed the punchline in the opening scene. But I was watching this on my phone, so the expressions may have just been so subtle that I missed them.

Some of the extras in the cast tend to be wooden or awkward, but I’m presuming this is part of the direction given to them especially based on how poorly made and acted the fodder films for this short were produced. The lead actor, Blair Hoyle, does a fine job of carrying the majority of the screen time. Again, it’s slightly difficult to critic his performance, because some of the awkwardness may just be part of the entire short’s gag, and most of it to me seems to be editing choices. The cult leader is an over-the-top character, who in a larger budgeted piece could’ve been played by Nicholas Cage, but it appears with less money they may have gotten someone more talented.

While, with a low-budgeted indie film, it is really easy to pick it apart, it is incredibly important to note that this was made within the confinements of a small budget. Were there things I thought should’ve/could’ve been done better? Well, yeah, of course, but they all would’ve cost more money. It’s hard to find too many faults with this film inside the confinements of a miniscule budget. Sure, ADR and more camera movements would’ve made this short far more engaging, but also could’ve easily quadrupled the cost.

That said, the only actual fault/issue that I could’ve found with this film was the editing. I don’t want to be too harsh, because I’m unsure if the lingering slow edits are purposeful as part of the satire of movies from that period in propaganda or a separate purposeful choice. In certain moments where I thought a faster pacing on the edit would’ve sold the humor better it just felt choppy and with too many beats. This may have been on purpose though, so it’s hard to say it is necessarily a fault.

The main point is that these people made something. And that something isn’t wholly bad. It’s more of a movie than my critic-ass has ever made. So with that in mind I hope everyone involved in the process is encouraged to keep on creating. Was this film perfect? No. Definitely not. Are any? Well, The Empire Strikes Back is pretty close, but no. But I’d encourage everyone reading this to take a couple minutes (seriously, you’ll need fifteen minutes total which includes turning on your computer), and watch what people made. And then, because it is so easy, give the people involved some encouragement. Why? Because it doesn’t cost you anything to encourage someone, to quote from Kevin Smith. Sure, you can be a d-bag, and rip this movie apart. That’s fairly easy to do. But before you do that maybe make something artistically and expose yourself even just a fraction.

But obviously, some people have enjoyed this film and got the joke, as it has taken home the awards for “Best Comedy” and “Best Actor in a Blooper Reel” at the 2016 ConCarolinas Short Film Festival earlier this month.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, The Devil’s Lettuce is what it is – a creative, innovative parody of a nearly-forgotten part of classic cinema. While I could find faults in this small-budgeted short, what I see is a group of talented and passionate people doing what they love. And I hope they continue to create and express themselves in their creation. I’m interested to see more from everyone involved in this project to see how they grow and mature in their craft. With all that in mind, I’m not going to rate this film the way I would rate Guardians of the Galaxy or North by Northwest (both 10 out 10 for me). Those are different budgets and larger productions. I’m going to grade this compared to other small indie films I’ve seen. And again, go out and support people who are doing these small indie projects. If you don’t have money to support them, just give them a kind, encouraging word. – 7.5/10

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-Kevin McVicker
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine

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Note: Due to the involvement of Dave Harlequin at this publication, and in the interest of fair journalism, he had absolutely no involvement whatsoever in the writing, or editing of this film review.

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