While most “evil infant” horror movies owe a debt of gratitude to the iconic Roman Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby, Devil’s Due has an actual icon from the 1968 masterpiece: A prop crucifix from that movie is used in this one.
That fun factoid, and a few others, were revealed by the guys behind Radio Silence – a team of four filmmakers, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella – as they unveiled their first full length feature on the Twentieth Century Fox lot last month. The details of our special visit were under wraps until now, just in time for the, er, birth of the flick 9 days from now.
The first surprise was the appearance of Eli Roth – in the flesh, not the film. He stood before the screen and in front of we select few genre journalists and said, “Hi, I’m Eli Roth and I have nothing to do with this movie.” Turns out, he saw it and loved it and just wanted to help spread the word.
Roth said it’s great to see the support of indie filmmakers by a big studio like Fox. For directors with “either no body of work, or not enough body of work, [it] makes it difficult. It’s so helpful when a filmmaker [like me] comes out and just says, you know, ‘You guys should watch this movie. Seriously, take a look—this is one worth supporting.’ And also, it’s really nice to see a horror movie, or thriller, or supernatural thriller, whatever you want to call it, that has a very kind of rough and indie vibe that gets fully supported by a major studio.”
Roth stuck around to moderate the Q&A, but first we were treated to several sequential scenes from the movie, totaling about 30 minutes. In the beginning we meet a newlywed couple, Zach and Samantha (Zach Gilford and Allison Miller). They’re Americans vacationing in a foreign land, don’t know the language and are traveling light with burner cell phones and about as much clothing as you’d expect to need on your honeymoon. And a video-camera – also a honeymoon essential and a record of the horror soon to come.
While filming everything for posterity, Zach begins to notice odd behavior from Samantha. He initially writes it off as newlywed nerves, but after they return home and as the dark days turn to months with her changes in brain and body becoming even more alarming, it’s evident that they were the unwitting hosts of a threesome on their wedding night.
Needless to say, Devil’s Due is a found footage film. The Radio Silence team found success in this formula with their segment in the V/H/S anthology (“10 / 31 / 98”) and are carrying it through in a bigger way now – however, there is a method to the madness. As Roth says, it’s not just about swinging a camera and around and trying to be scary.
“What I loved about the movie,” he said, “is that you care about the characters so much. Your lead actress is so sympathetic and beautiful. The movie is a movie about every new couple’s worst nightmare. Like the scene when they’re in the doctor’s office and she’s getting injected. It’s so painful to watch because you know what the illness is, but you’re watching this couple go through this heartbreaking thing. When you ask many people what’s your favorite horror film, number one most people tell me ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ – [but] I thought what you guys did so well is you basically right from the get-go say, ‘Yes, she’s impregnated with a Satanic baby, something awful happened to her, you all saw it and now what’s enjoyable is watching her go through a pregnancy knowing this has happened’, and I thought you took it in so many great directions.”
Gillett acknowledged that Rosemary’s Baby inevitably comes up people see the trailer. But, “it’s not something we were ever really afraid of. We’re all huge fans of that film and it is one of the touchstone horror films, and we knew after reading the script that there was just an opportunity to borrow from it in a smart way and really tell a story that had some similarities but that just felt a little more contemporary and accessible.”
“Obviously the style of the film [found footage] as well allows you to be involved in the relationship in a really intimate and almost voyeuristic way. I think one of the really big draws to it was telling a story of a couple who’s at that stage where everything is great, but that greatness and that change also comes with all this doubt. ‘Am I gonna be a good husband? Am I gonna do the dad thing right? What am I gonna fuck up?’ Then this other element enters the picture and things just go really horribly wrong for this couple. It was a really fun thing to watch Rosemary’s Baby and then get to borrow things that felt right to update in this version.”
Bettinelli-Olpin added, “And we also wanted to own it from the start. We didn’t want to pretend that it wasn’t that and hide it and make you wait. That scene where she gets impregnated is about 15 minutes into the movie because everyone knows Rosemary’s Baby. We love it. Everybody loves it. Let’s just own it and let the movie play out from there as opposed to waiting and hiding and trying to be secretive about it.”
Gillett talked about the hidden camera aspect of the film, saying, “In this style of filmmaking, you have to really give things to the audience. I think that’s a part of the craft of a good point of view movie; you have to really give people something to propel the story forward. You don’t get the sweeping cinematic pushes and dolly moves and all of that [so] you really just have to get at the heart of the honesty of the scene and get out and into the next honest moment.”
“I think it was the right choice to front load the movie with that big moment; then it’s fun and there’s tension in watching it unfold and how it’s going to unfold. Really letting the audience see something that the two characters didn’t. The camera that was inside of the purse really is the secret of the movie for the characters for two thirds of the film.”
Roth said, “When it’s a bad point of view movie, it’s painful to watch. But when it’s done well, when you get a Goodbye Uncle Tom, Cannibal Holocaust, Blair Witch, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity… you get so caught up in the story, it actually transcends the format. I think you guys really did that brilliantly.”
“One of the things you couldn’t get from the clips is they do a lot of clever devices, like he clicks on a hidden camera; it allows you to break away from that. But I think what really makes the movie work are these two actors. I’d love to know how you found working with them, and also how you guys work as a team, because I know you’re a collective as Radio Silence. A lot of people know you guys from the awesome stuff you did in V/H/S, but can you talk about working together as a team, and what that process is like?”
Gillett replied, “Allison was one of the first people we saw and she blew us all away. It became the benchmark for the rest of the auditioning process. ‘Oh man, that person’s good, but they’re not as good as Allison.’ We just all fell in love with her, and the same thing with Zach. He came in as such a natural, it never felt like he was acting. He just came in and it felt like he was having a conversation. That was what we wanted for this, specifically to what you’re talking about where in order to get into it, you just have to make it feel real. It wasn’t about casting somebody who could play a role; it was casting somebody who was the closest approximation to the character that was written that we could. There was just a really conversational back and forth way of interacting that we could turn the camera on and put Allison and Zach in a room together without a script and they would be our characters, and we would love them for who they are and what their relationship is.”
Bettinelli-Olpin added, “We’ve been working together for four or five years now. We have a bunch of online stuff, just shorts that we would make in our free time after work and on weekends. Then we got hooked up with V/H/S and did that. All the way from just the four of us in a car on the side of a road shooting something to doing this movie, we as much as humanly possible try to keep the process the same. Where we can all rely on each other and we can all help each other. Fox has been fantastic in allowing us to continue to just take what we do and move it into their realm and support us and not try to shift what we’ve done.”
Roth agreed, praising Fox for taking a chance on movies like Chronicle and Devil’s Due. “I think that when a studio gets behind a movie, you’ll see posters and trailers on TV, but certain ones need that extra little push and support from the online genre community and the horror world to go, ‘No, guys, this isn’t just another studio movie; this isn’t [as if] Fox said “Wait a minute, Devil Inside made money, let’s do that.”’ This is actually the people, John, Brittany, and the writers. Everyone really cared about making a great film, making a scary movie and doing something that was smart and interesting and different.”
“If the movie works, it truly is one of those cases where it will open the door for more young filmmakers who are getting out there and putting their movies on YouTube and trying to get a voice. It makes it easier for the studio to pluck other new filmmakers.”
You can see what all the praise is about for yourself when the film is released on January 17, 2014.
And remember… you must Pray for Sam while you still can!
20th Century Fox’s Devil’s Due, features Allison Miller (“Terra Nova”) and Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”). Penned by Lindsay Devlin, it’s directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Radio Silence).
After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple find themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behavior in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin.
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