Starring Angela DiMarco, David S. Hogan, Kate Alden
Directed by Jeremy Berg
Last fall, I had the chance to catch Valley of the Sasquatch (review), a small, but spirited Bigfoot flick from the production company known as The October People. As I found the film to be quite promising for the production team as far as micro-budget horror goes, I was more than curious to check out their previous efforts. The first of these that I sought out was The Device, a sci-fi/horror film in the vein of “The X-Files” and films like Fire in the Sky.
If you scour many online retailers for the film, you will likely come upon a handful of middling to negative reviews from disgruntled viewers, though I find little of this to blame on writer/director Jeremy Berg and co-writer John Portanova. More than anything, it would appear that the film has suffered most due to its misleading packaging, which hints at a story that is heavily laden with futuristic imagery, a conspiratorial background, and outright alien action. The problem is that The Device is not at all this kind of film. While some may go into a viewing hoping for non-stop action, they would be better prepared to expect a slower paced psychological drama with a sci-fi sensibility; something much more character- and mystery-driven above all. It is understandable why distributors seek foremost to grab the attention of potential buyers with striking artwork and imagery (even if it’s quite unrelated to the film itself), but in this case, it will likely do the viewers and the film more of a disservice.
In actuality, The Device is a simple story about a family and the otherworldly force that threatens to tear it apart. After spending a decade apart, Abby (DiMarco) reunites with her younger sister Rebecca (Alden, The Hollow One) to spread their mother’s ashes at a secluded family lake house. Despite the years spent recovering from a traumatic experience in their youth, the sisters finally seek to put their woes in the past and start a new life. On one fateful afternoon, however, Abby and Rebecca stumble upon what appears to be a crash site in the woods nearby, particularly drawn to a strange spherical object that they bring home. Little do they know, the object is of an otherworldly nature, and as mysterious occurrences unfold and an inhuman visitor seemingly draws closer, the sisters must uncover the truth about the device – and their own past – before it’s too late.
As a huge fan of understated sci-fi and shows like “The X-Files,” I rather enjoyed The Device for what it is, and I feel confident in saying that it is my favorite of the three films that I have viewed from The October People. DiMarco and Alden turn in great performances as sisters here, which I feel is one of the strongest aspects of the film that emotionally holds it together quite solidly. From their first moments together, you get a believable sense for their family’s history and their lifelong rapport. Hogan, DiMarco’s real life husband, also delivers in his role as Abby’s husband Calvin, particularly as he becomes increasingly engaged by the device, bringing together the ultimately fragile familial state that drives the film’s underlying mystery.
In that regard, I found the film’s evenly paced dramatic approach to the age-old abduction story be quite satisfying, despite the complaints I have seen from some who criticize the film’s lack of action sequences. The Device works best as an independent genre effort by maintaining a subtly eerie tone and minimalist sense, which makes it very reminiscent of some of the mythology-focused episodes of “The X-Files” when it is at its best. To top it off, the substantially creepy music from Joseph Molner effectively elevates the growing sense of paranoia and mystery in the film.
That’s not to say that The Device is without its faults. There are more than a few moments in the story that are quite unoriginal — namely some involving Abby and Calvin’s relationship, which ultimately follows some major sci-fi/horror tropes to a predictable T. Additionally, there is one minor, but glaring plot hole in a scene leading up to the finale that involves the disposal and subsequent reappearance of the device that genuinely had me scratching my head, wondering how it slipped past the editing team. Nonetheless, The Device remains a passable, if not sufficiently entertaining film for sci-fi/horror fans who can appreciate a subdued approach to the abduction tale.
As might be expected with such a micro-budget effort, the DVD extras are a bit scarce, consisting solely of three audio commentaries. The most technical of these comes from Berg, Portanova, and producer Matt Medisch, who provide in-depth insight into the process of creating a sci-fi/horror film on a budget. Mostly, this commentary provides a great sense for the driving passion that fuels The October People as a team, which is most evident when they excitedly and fondly recall anecdotes about the filming process, the actors, and the shooting locales.
The cast commentary from DiMarco, Alden, and Hogan provides a bit more levity — mostly because they play a drinking game for much of the track. You certainly get an idea of the on-set rapport between the three actors, who are all quite charming and funny here. (I was admittedly bummed that not a one of them pointed out the aforementioned plot hole, however!)
Lastly, the commentary track with screenwriter Tracy Tormé (of Fire in the Sky and Intruders fame) is extremely fascinating in regard to the alien abduction subgenre as a whole. In what is essentially an interview led by Portanova, Tormé provides some great insight into the making of his own work — which very clearly inspired Berg and Portanova’s script — and also discusses his dealings with UFO research, sightings, and abductions.
DVD Special Features:
- Audio Commentary by writer/director Jeremy Berg, producer Matt Medisch, and writer/producer John Portanova
- Audio Commentary by actors Angela DiMarco, David S. Hogan, and Kate Alden
- Audio Commentary by Tracy Tormé, screenwriter of Fire in the Sky and Intruders