Devil’s Playground

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

The lifestyle of the Amish is a strict and old school one, where work, faith, and family are the cornerstones. The rural communities of Amish keep to themselves, spending much of their time laboring and working to better their environments. These folks shun most modern luxuries, opting to go without television and instead of cars or trucks, they choose to depend on horses that pull them inside of buggies. But unlike many religions, the Amish don’t baptize their children as infants, as they wait until they’ve become young adults. And since the lifestyle is so demanding, they have a ritual called “rumspringa,” in which sixteen year olds are let loose into the world, to decide if the Amish way of life is for them. This means wild parties, alcohol, narcotics, cars, television, sex, and all the other pleasures the outside world has to offer. While most of the teens indulge in these pleasures, some more than others, almost all of the teens turn back to their former lifestyle, even after seeing all that excitement outside the Amish world. In Devil’s Playground, we’re taken inside the “rumspringa” and shown the trials & tribulations inside the teens. When all the beer has been drank, the cable has been watched, and the cars have been driven, which lifestyle will these teens decide to take part it and make their own?

The idea of Amish teens turning into hedonistic pleasure seekers sounds like a pitch for a slapstick comedy, but in Devil’s Playground, we’re shown both sides of the coin. Yes, it is hilarious at times just to see these kids in such a strange setting, but there’s a more serious, important angle to this process as well. These teens might be drinking, smoking, and screwing, but at the same time, they have perhaps the most important decision of their lives just ahead of them. If they stay and indulge in the outside world, they’ll have more fun and such, but in doing so, they must turn their backs on their families and faith. In other words, not an easy decision to make, especially when you’re exposed to such immense pleasures, when you’re not used to being able to do much outside of work. So while parts of Devil’s Playground seem a tad exploitative, we need to see these teens drown in the outside world, as it makes their eventual decision more important, since they’ve experienced both lifestyles. I found this to be a very good documentary, though I wish it were longer and provided a look back at those featured, so we could know how their decision turned out. It would be nice to know if the choices worked out or not, though the included commentary track covers some ground in that respect. I more than recommend this release, as Devil’s Playground is an engaging feature, even with its flaws.

Video: How does it look?

Devil’s Playground is presented in full frame, as intended. This was shot on digital video, so it doesn’t look like a traditional motion picture, but the image is clean and quite sharp. As you’d expect, the usual digital pitfalls are present, such as poor visuals in darker scenes, but on the whole, this is a solid visual effort. As I said, the darker scenes don’t have as much detail, but that is due to the equipment used, not this treatment. The lighter sequences look excellent, very sharp and refined at all times. Given the equipment used and the nature of the production, I think this is a more than acceptable overall presentation.

Audio: How does it sound?

As this is a documentary about Amish teens, the audio isn’t too dynamic, but the included Dolby Digital 5.1 option is still more than solid. Aside from a few scenes with live music and the film’s own musical soundtrack, this mix is reserved and natural, though in this case, that’s how it should be presented. The dialogue is clean and crisp throughout, so no vocals are muffled or lost, except when caused by the material. So when a train goes by in some scenes, the dialogue is hard to hear, but that is no fault of this treatment. In the end, this mix is a good, acceptable presentation, but don’t expect too much, given the material involved. This disc also includes a 2.0 stereo track, should you need that instead.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The included audio commentary is a good one, as director Lucy Walker, editor Pax Wassermann, and producer Steven Cantor discuss the production. As I mentioned before, this session provides some information on what happened to some of the kids, but it has a broader focus as well. It was interesting to learn how the crew gained such access to the guarded Amish lifestyle, as well as assorted other production stories. This disc also includes some deleted scenes, as well as the film’s promotional trailer.

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