It’s a surprise to some that James Franco has carved a little corner for himself in the Hollywood scene, much less capable of directing films. Child of God isn’t his first foray in the director’s chair, but it is most certainly one of his more intriguingly creepier films, mostly thanks to the source material by Cormac McCarthy. While the movie might not appeal to a larger audience, there’s no doubt that the its lead actor Scott Haze will be getting praise for his fantastic performance as the grizzly and socially inept lead character.
Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) has no home, family, or friends to speak of. He’s been abandoned by everything humans essentially need to keep going and is living outside the social order. Ballard is uneducated, can barely speak in complete and understandable sentences, and lives in the woods outside of town. Mostly, he keeps to himself, save for the times he gets arrested by the town’s police for disturbing the peace or some other minor incident.
Alone and away from any form of human contact, Ballard happens across a car one night where a young couple has stopped to have sex where there are no interruptions. Ballard leaves and comes across the car again a few hours later only to find the car still running and the couple dead. Never having any human contact, Ballard has sex with the dead girl and then drags her back to his cabin, makes sure she’s comfortable, and then later goes shopping to find her a pretty dress to wear. Creeped out yet? Because it gets weirder.
Up to this point, though Ballard’s actions are extremely disturbing, he doesn’t harm anybody living and keeps mostly to himself. But one night, he wakes up in the middle of the night to a fire in his cabin. He manages to get out and tries to rescue his very dead girlfriend, but she gets burned up and essentially dies a second time. The loss of his only human contact drives Ballard over the edge and turns him into something even more disturbing: a cave-dwelling psychopath and murderous necrophiliac.
The subject matter can get extremely uncomfortable and disturbing at several points in the film. Cormac McCarthy’s work is always difficult to bring to the screen and it’s noticeable throughout the first half of the movie. The film is split into three acts, with some narration included in the first act as background information.
The rest of this review will be praise for Scott Haze’s portrayal of Lester Ballard. Haze went into isolation for three months for this role and claims it changed his life. He pulls out all the stops and is practically unrecognizable while onscreen. Haze does some pretty disgusting things, and his performance is downright disturbing, creepy, and shudder-inducing. The actor outshines the rest of the film, especially in the final half of the film and whether or not you’ll find the movie enjoyable, Haze gives one of the best performances of the year. He’s fantastic and his work in this film deserves an award.
The novel by Cormac McCarthy is dense and often hard to interpret, as is the film adaptation. Child of God is a mediocre attempt to bring McCarthy’s disturbed character to life. The material is uncomfortable and more creepy than a lot of things you’ll see in theaters this year. If you’re incensed really easily, then this may not be for you, but it’s ultimately worth watching for Scott Haze’s performance alone.