Riaan Hendricks’ The Devil’s Lair paints an unflinching portrait of criminal life like no other. At its core is Braaim, a meth dealer and leader of the Nice Time Kids gang in the Cape Flats of South Africa. Though the film is about the choices one man makes, do not mistake this for a Breaking Bad type experience. There are no extenuating circumstances for Braaim’s choices in life. He was born into a world where he saw his father sell drugs and grew up in an environment where drugs and violence were a way of life. Now a husband and father, Braaim frequently contemplates the impact that his choices will have on his own children.
At times Braaim himself seems to be losing interest in many aspects of the criminal lifestyle. Constantly aware that one more incident will land him back in jail for 25 to 30 years, Braaim shows no desire to commit crimes for money. He would be happy if he could merely sell meth and spend time with his children. There is even a scene where he discusses with his wife, Gadija, the ways he can better schedule in family time amongst his numerous gang activities. This is not to say that Braaim will be retiring anytime soon though.
In fact, the only way he can keep his family safe is to eliminate the competition that is determined to see his downfall. Engulfed in a turf war with two rival gangs, The Americans and the School Boys, Braaim is frequently plotting assassination attempts even as he winces in pain with a fresh bullet stuck in his thigh. The access that Hendricks gets to Braaim is astounding. It is chilling to watch as Braaim gives step by step instructions to his crew on how they should kill their enemies. At one point he even suggests that his men dress up like local school children so that they blend in and gain even closer access to their target.
While none of the gangland shootouts are captured on screen, it is hard not think that The Devil’s Lair could be used in some sort of legal proceeding against Braaim someday. Of course this is assuming that Braaim lives to see the day. Even his wife seems to ponder if there will be a day that he no longer returns home. Some of the most revealing moments of The Devil’s Lair come from Braaim’s wife. Acknowledging that the choice she made to marry Braaim has put her in this predicament, Gadija is a constant reminder of the poor decisions that have left their children in danger.
The Devil’s Lair does not pass any judgment on any of the individuals featured, Hendricks merely presents an observational look at their lives. The film is a raw look at the dangers that come with gang life. It is a telling tale of not only the cycle of violence that exists within families, but also the inherent parental desire for a better life for their children. Despite being set in South Africa, The Devil’s Lair is a film that will resonate with viewers worldwide.
Friday October 18th at 8:00PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox