Devil's Playground review by The Grim Ringler

Documentaries are, to be sure, an acquired taste. I mean, let’s face it, there is a lot of really boring stuff out there, so I can see why a lot of people aren’t terribly interested in these films. There are a few out there though that really show off the best of what this art form can be. Take the Paradise Lost films, which are nothing but two brilliantly made films that just happen to be true. Their truth being far stranger and darker than most movies that are churned out. The sad thing here is that there are a lot of really good docs being made these days but they are only shown in art houses, and, if you are like me, well, those art houses just ain’t close enough for me to really want to trek down to see these things. So, we’ve established that there are docs that rock, and docs that are just boooooring. So where does Devil’s Playground fit into this picture? Oddly enough, right in the middle.

Devil’s Playground follows several Amish teenagers during the time in the Amish lifestyle that is when teenagers are allowed for several years to experience the ‘english’ world (i.e. the world of zippers and reality) so that they might see the world before they give the rest of their lives to the church. This is a very strange time for teenagers as they are shown a world of cars, drugs, sex, music, and begin to feel things they’d never even imagined before. And before they even know it, the thought of re-joining the church, of giving up the freedoms that they have lived so long without is something that seems inconceivable.

The film follows several of the Amish teens but the one it seems to focus on is Faron, a boy that at first looks like your normal teenager until you start to realize that things aren’t quite as they appear. Faron though, it seems, has run into the proverbial ‘bad crowd’ and has taken up drug use as a hobby and dealing as a vocation and suddenly the real world has become all too real for Faron and his girlfriend as he struggles with his addiction and the implications of his dealing. We later learn that Faron had turned informant on his fellow dealers and had helped the cops catch people had once been Faron’s friends and suddenly Faron’s life is hanging in the balance (as well as he relationship with girlfriend Emma) and he may have no choice but to return to his family and the Amish lifestyle.

Not every story in Devil’s Playground is so dire though as most deal simply with teenagers having to face entering a world of parties and excess only to leave it for a life spent in the service of the lord. And as we see, this is never an easy choice for these kids. Faron himself waffles back and forth between re-joining the church and striking out on his own in search of Emma, who he had lost, and his true purpose. Others though know they can never return to a life spent in relative ignorance of the outside world. It is one girl though who shows us how very much there is to lose for these youths though as she tells of her breaking off an engagement with her boyfriend and leaving the church only to be excommunicated and have every tie to her family cut from her. And it is here that it becomes hard to understand and accept the practices of the Amish church and lifestyle.

This is not a film made to damn the Amish lifestyle though and I feel I need to stress this. Director Lucy Walker never interprets their world, nor does she lay blame or judgment on these people, merely letting them tell their tales and show the choice they are forced to make. There is very little really known about the Amish people, their lifestyle, and eventually the sacrifices they all must make if they are to either follow the path of the lord or forge their own path.

As docs go, this is a very well made, very insightful film that sheds light on a subject few of us truly know much about. The problems the film has, and there are some, rest mainly with the subject matter as 1. it’s hard not to judge the Amish lifestyle as ignorant and foolish and 2. it’s hard to document a subject that is so purposefully secretive and where few will speak with you. We are given a glimpse of a world we have never seen before, and in that director Walker succeeds beautifully. Well, shot and edited, this plays very well and never feels slow or plodding, though you do get to loathe the sight of Faron each time his life goes down the crapper again because he made yet another bad choice.

The disc sports a decent image and 5.1 surround (huh?) as well as some deleted scenes (which are very good actually and are far from filler), and a commentary by the director. All in all a decent presentation for a movie I had never even really heard of before.

Devil’s Playground, while far from a great documentary is indeed a very good one and does a very good job giving insight into a culture few have before and yet never passing judgment on the people for what they believe. Docs are definitely an acquired taste but if you have any interest in them this is a pretty good, if not great, doc and well worth a look.


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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