The Devil’s Tongue (2023) Movie Review

Director: Julian Gowdy
Cast: Julian Gowdy, David Snow, Sarah Ward, Philip Bushman, Summer Binkley, David Sbarge, Graham Rickerman, Jon Nelson, Morris Swed, Jacob Hildebrand, Ally Thiel
Running time: 78 mins

The press notes for this micro-budget horror movie provide a potentially intriguing hook for the film, essentially noting that it’s a movie about a recovering addict who desperately wants to make a movie, made by a recovering addict who desperately wants to make a movie. To that end, writer-director Julian Gowdy not only plays himself in the film, he also names his character Julian.

The film begins in promising fashion, opening in a remote forest setting, with a woman (Summer Binkley) in a wedding dress, approaching a seated Devil (Graham Rickerman) and indicating that she has come to fulfil the terms of their bargain. It’s then revealed that these are only actors, and we’re watching frustrated director Julian (Gowdy) attempting to make his film – the sequence ends with the actors going home, in part because they’re not being paid and they have already overrun by several hours.

With that set-up and the film’s title, it seems logical to expect Julian the director to make his own deal with the Devil in order to get his movie made, and indeed, the film hints at that development with a short dream sequence involving the Devil figure. Instead, however, that idea is merely metaphorical and the film goes in a different direction, as recovering addict Julian hears from a just-out-of-rehab friend (Morris Swed) that another recovering addict (Philip Bushman as Phil) is the son of Hollywood producer Harrison Porter (David Stone), and he fixates on Porter as the last chance to get his film made, turning to ever more extreme measures in the process.

There are bits and pieces of good ideas and moments scattered throughout The Devil’s Tongue, such as Julian using his film-making skills to essentially fake a convincing torture video with which to extort Phil’s dad, or a handful of clearly drawn-from-experience jokes about actors and producers. Ultimately, however, the film effectively spins out of control as soon as the torture plot kicks in – that correlation may be intentional, but it doesn’t make Julian’s subsequent descent into severe acts of self-harm any less confusing, no matter how good the special effects are.

Ultimately, the film never really recovers from its loss of focus, and any point it’s trying to make about the dangers of addiction gets lost along the way. Similarly, if there’s a significance to Julian’s final – admittedly horrifying – act, it’s not communicated by the script, and it loses any emotional or dramatic impact it might have had, as a result.

The film has other problems too, ranging from varying degrees of competence in the performances (the perils of having a cast made up of the director’s friends) to underwritten characters and a resulting lack of emotional investment in both the central relationship and Julian’s all-consuming desire to make a film. It’s also baffling that Gowdy would give himself such unsympathetic lines, given his obvious personal connection to the main character.

In fairness, Gowdy deserves all the credit for actually getting his movie made in the first place, though he now faces the equally difficult challenge of getting it distributed. Come to think of it, that would have made a good blackly comic ending to the film – after all, the Devil is a notoriously tricksy fellow and that sort of smallprint-related double cross is right up his alley.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Matthew Turner

The Devil’s Tongue is currently seeking distribution.


  • Matthew Turner

    A lifelong film fanatic, Matthew Turner (FilmFan1971) is a London-based critic and author, as well as the co-host of Fatal Attractions, a podcast on erotic thrillers. His favourite film is Vertigo and he hasn't missed an episode of EastEnders since 1998.