Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Perhaps the sole bright spot in the otherwise disappointing recent horror anthology V/H/S was “10/31/98”, the concluding segment of that film that featured some truly horrific moments and wonderful effects work. The directors of that short, known collectively as Radio Silence, knew how to effectively exploit the found footage conceit in a believable way while showcasing some jaw-dropping set pieces that played more as well-executed magic tricks than lazy digital trickery. Now, one-half of that directing team (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) is responsible for the new found footage supernatural thriller Devil’s Due, out today (1/17/14) at a theatre near you. Does it live up to the promise shown in their earlier effort?
Meet the McCalls – Zach (Gilford) and Samantha (Miller), a young couple who have just tied the knot and have taken off to Santo Domingo for their honeymoon. While there, they travel, hit the beach, do some ziplining, and – on their last night – are shepherded to an underground club by a shady cabbie (Payono) where they dance and drink their way into unconsciousness.
Once they arrive back home in the States, Samantha discovers that she’s pregnant, overjoying Zach and their family (if not the somewhat apprehensive mother-to-be). However, a series of bizarre incidents involving ominous stalkers, strange symbols and piles of ash being left on their property, and some frightening changes to Samantha’s body (to say nothing of her increasingly violent episodes and newly-discovered carnivorous appetite), all lead Zach to believe that something truly sinister may have happened to his wife in Santo Domingo, and that the child they’re expecting may not be his own.
If you’re thinking “Found footage Rosemary’s Baby”, you’re just about there (minus one opportunistic asshole of a husband, mind – Zach is a good guy, not a Guy guy). And really, that’s a neat premise. Watching a couple become the unwitting pawns of a satanic sect wishing to bring about the birth of the antichrist (one of them, anyway), all captured with the immediacy that the POV subgenre provides (when done well) is a very cool idea. Unfortunately, far too little is done here to shake up this rather basic story, which is quite predicable throughout (Spoilers for the intuitive, but – this includes the fate of one of the central characters, which is practically given away in the film’s opening sequence. End Spoilers).
Still, use of overly familiar genre tropes aside, credit must be given to writer Lindsay Devlin for finding a deft and believable way to excuse the use of the found footage approach in this movie. By actually giving the lead characters a reason to be constantly recording (in a way that’s more buyable than the usual ”We HAVE to keep filming!” “…why?” “…just…BECAUSE, dammit!” hokum that we deal with in flicks like this), the film manages to sidestep all of the more annoying aspects of this subgenre. In addition to seeing events through the leads’ camcorder, Due takes the Chronicle approach to found footage, in that any video recording device may be employed to help tell the story (whether it be spy-cams, security cameras, or even those adventure cams that people strap on before doing batshit stuff like sky-diving). Clearing the believability hurdle is always tough for most movies that choose to adopt this format, and Devil’s Due acquits itself well with its creative choices throughout.
Credit must also be given to Devlin and the lead actors for creating two of the more likeable protagonists to be seen in theatrical horror in a while. As Zach and Samantha, Gilford and Miller give quite realistic portrayals of newlyweds in love (and expectant parents in danger), making us fully invest in the pair even as one of them becomes more and more frightening as the flick progresses. It’s sadly rare these days to find a high concept horror flick that’s as concerned with its characters as it is its plot, but Devil’s Due succeeds in making us give a damn about these poor people hurled into harm’s way. If the movie falters with its originality (or lack thereof), I still applaud it for managing to make me care.
And as for the directors behind Devil’s Due? Did they live up to the promise shown in their previous trip to our favorite genre? Yes and no. While I appreciate their characters-first approach in telling their tale, far too little happens in the opening three-quarters of the film to effectively grip the attention of those expecting plentiful shivers and scares. However, though the slow-burn approach they begin with may yield too few frights, two big set pieces in the film’s final act (one set in broad daylight involving a group of unfortunate teenagers, the other being the film’s climax) give viewers what we expect from this type of tale. The all-out mayhem in these moments is a direct continuation of the style found in “10/31/98” and is as enjoyably nerve-wracking as it is spectacular. If only a bit more of this approach had been sprinkled in throughout the first two acts, the film might have been far more successful.
Ah, well. I wish the directing duo all the best and look forward to their next project.
While Devil’s Due doesn’t reinvent the devil-baby wheel, it is a solid (enough) shocker worth a look for those interested in catching a bit of terror on the big screen this weekend. If you’re agreeable to found footage horror, you could do far worse than giving this film a look.
3 out of 5