Devil’s Work

By Miguel Silveira | Drama
A teenage boy uncovers the disturbing truth behind his soldier father's death.

14-year-old Eugene comes home from a snowy afternoon out with his classmates, only to discover the body of his father on the floor of their apartment.

After the suicide, Eugene becomes obsessed with the details of his father’s past, life and work, including his history as a soldier, and his life after returning from Iraq. He also becomes obsessed with his unborn sibling in his pregnant mother’s belly.

As Eugene dives deeper into the hidden world of his father, he uncovers darker truths about just what he was exposed to. Increasingly troubled, he turns to a potentially violent course of action to expose the terrible truth of just why his father died.

Writer-director Miguel Silveira’s cerebral, unnerving drama is both an uncovering of a mystery and a portrait of grief, capturing the isolation and alienation that both secrets and sorrow create in its young protagonist. Both themes are united in a thoughtful and studied sense of craftsmanship that evokes dread and unease, with austere, cool cinematography and an elongated sense of rhythm and timing that emphasizes the emptiness of Eugene’s emotions and life after his father’s death.

The sense of drama here isn’t found in the dynamic cause-and-effect rhythm of conflict and resolution. Instead, the storytelling focused on Eugene’s internal journey as he struggles to make sense of his father’s shocking act, and is guided by each small realization he makes. Sometimes these discoveries unravel with an uncanny dread, and in many places, the story feels like a horror film, with its lurking shadows and creeping camera movements. But there is never any cathartic burst of feeling, and with the emphasis on the internal and emotional, harrowing dramatic events are handled with considerable understatement and subtlety.

Sound plays a key role in the film’s formidable atmospherics, as the archival sound of Eugene’s father’s recorded thoughts weaves in and out of the narrative, reflecting Eugene’s obsessive rumination. They also play a key role in the build-up of audience expectations. At first, we and Eugene perhaps wonder if there is a conspiracy at work here. But as he discovers, the truth is much more prosaic but even sadder — and perhaps even more anger-inducing because of that.

“Devil’s Work” in the end is about the horrors of war and its long-lingering effects — in this case, the use of depleted uranium weapons by the military starting in the 1991 Gulf War and used extensively in more recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, even in more densely populated areas. The effects of these weapons were felt not just within the populations that were the targets, but also by the soldiers that worked around and handled them. The film touches on the horrors that such weapons have left behind, and in the end, Eugene’s sense of grief and search for answers doesn’t lead to a tidy conclusion. Instead, he and viewers may be left with more questions and a gnawing sense of horror, especially since the effects of this wartime decision have yet to fully play out.

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