Let's face it, James Franco's Child of God, a movie about a lonely man living in the Tennessee wilderness who takes up necrophilia and murder, is a difficult movie to enjoy. However, that does not make it a film to be reviled. The film, based on an early Cormac McCarthy novel, has had a difficult time finding appreciation from most critics (including one of our own). At best, it has divided critics, but some of the best films often do that.
Cultist called up the film's star, Scott Haze, to explore why the film has not received a fair shake from critics and his method to prepare for the role, which included making his own version of the film while living in caves in Tennessee. Speaking from Hollywood, just a few days before he visits Miami Beach to present the film and talk about it on a panel with two other film critics, he shared his gratitude about the interest in the film by some critics while trying to come to terms with other critics' disdain for the work.
"Here's the thing with the critic situation," Haze says, "it's a very hard movie to make. "Like I said, this movie's been optioned for many years, Sean Penn couldn't get this movie made for 15 years, and it makes you think, and it does something inside of you when you watch this movie. We live in an age where not many people are making Taxi Driver today ... If someone were to make Taxi Driver today, I bet you it would be panned."
In a world of big studio blockbusters reliant on escapism and fantasy, churning out variations of the superhero comic concern of good versus evil, Child of God offers something more startling: Can a viewer have sympathy for a man who is in fact a serial killer necrophiliac? "This is one of those types of films that really touch people in different kinds of ways," says Haze. "I've heard everything from, 'Lester Ballard is my hero' to 'That was one of the craziest things I've ever watched in my life.'"
But it's more than a horror film, Scott clarifies. The film's concern is in the human being that is the product of abandonment by his family and society. Scott says it's important to consider how isolated this cave-dweller of a man is, who is left to make friends with stuffed animals he won at carnival, to turn to such an extreme desire for human connection.
"I think that's the result of the isolation of loneliness, and I think that the necrophilia/serial killer aspect is him trying to recreate the connection he had with his first girlfriend, which he calls his girlfriend, hence the reason why he bought her a dress and took her on a date. It's like the first human connection he's ever really had. It just happened to be a dead person."
It is a twisted subject to wrap one's mind around and as he and Franco dive into a dark place, they count on the viewer to not suspend disbelief but consider the possibilities of what a man will do to connect, even if it seems immoral. With that in mind, Haze admits that the celebrity of Franco, a jack-of-all-trades artist, may also blind critics to a work he says was a dream project for his director friend. "I think 1,000 percent that is the case," he affirms. "If somebody walks into this movie and it was directed by someone like Scorsese or Clint Eastwood or David Fincher, they would have a different set of lenses on with which to judge the movie."
Haze also feels inclined to defend the movie because he, too, invested much of himself in the role. He took the project on soon after playing a beefed up, crew-cut Marine in another film. When he moved into a friend's cabin in Tennessee to study for his role, he acted it out with an actress friend, Elissa Shay, gradually lost weight and grew out his hair. He came up with a hardly intelligible drawl and posture that can only be described as "caved-in." He also moved into caves with nothing but his thoughts.
"Everything Lester does in the novel I did," he says. "Half that stuff didn't make the movie, which is just funny ... I took the time to do that because I don't think the film would be what it is if I didn't prepare the way I did."
But he also did not turn full method. He afforded himself some music. Specifically, the music of rapper Eminem. He admits it wasn't conscious, but after thinking about it, he gives Eminem credit in helping him form the character, at least on a subtle level. "I really think that his music speaks to the fighting spirit of the underdog," Haze says, "and I think Lester for sure is an underdog when his father kills himself, leaving him isolated and nobody wants to show him love."
While in the caves, Haze also did not lose touch with who he was as an actor and had real worries. "I thought I was crazy for a lot of the time doing what I did do," he admits. "When you're an actor preparing for a movie, there's always that thought when you're living alone and then you'll get that call telling you the movie's not happening."
He is looking forward to coming to Miami next week to discuss the film at the Miami Beach Cinematheque's Knight Foundation-sponsored series "Speaking In Cinema." He says he was surprised to see the film programmed so aggressively at the art house. "To show Child of God for a week there, I feel honored and grateful to be chosen. That was such a specific movie that I was pleasantly surprised to be part of the series. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be great."
Child of God premieres in South Florida exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday, Sept. 19. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join "Variety" film critic Justin Chang and "Hudak On Hollywood" film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series "Speaking In Cinema" to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.