Devil’s Gate (FrightFest 2017)

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Devil's Gate aka AbductionStarring Bridget Regan, Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore, Spencer Drever

Directed by Clay Staub


Following the unsolved disappearance of local woman Maria Pritchard (Regan) and her young son Jonah (Drever), FBI agent Daria Francis (Schull) is assigned to the rural town of Devil’s Gate.

The only person who may have any answers to the disappearance is Maria’s well-regarded husband, Jackson (Ventimiglia), whom the local police are quick to rule out of any wrongdoing. The audience, however, has a rather different opinion of Jackson – having witnessed an unfortunate visitor meet the business end one of the brutal homemade traps that now surround the Pritchard homestead.

It takes a bit of convincing, but soon Daria and her companion, local deputy Conrad Salter (Ashmore) roll up to have a word with Jackson… and things go downhill fast. Seems Jackson has “something” locked up in a cage in the basement, and his defiant ramblings make claims of angels, demons, and an evil that has stolen his family.

It’s a shame that the alternate title for Devil’s Gate, Abduction, pretty much gives away the game from the off – because director Clay Staub does an excellent job of building mystery through blending genre tropes in the first half. There’s a definite backwoods Texas Chain Saw Massacre vibe in the introduction to Jackson and his traps, and as Daria’s investigation of the home gets under way, the heavy religious iconography within the house starts to hint at things that come from below rather than above.

But even when you know what’s behind the disappearance, it’s easy to appreciate Staub’s misdirection and the attempt to do something different here. The twists most definitely don’t stop once the impressively-realised aliens join the show, however, so there’s still plenty left to keep you on your toes.

Ventimiglia owns the screen here with his performance, walking a hazy line between aggressor and victim. It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for his genuine despair – to believe his words as he tells the two cops that if they don’t let him do what he needs to do, his family is lost. When Maria is returned, the mission becomes the retrieval of his child… but a later twist leads Jackson to the edge of hopelessness, and Ventimiglia carries it off with aplomb.

Fellow leads Schull and Ashmore can’t quite match Ventimiglia’s gravitas, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do a good job – their roles simply don’t carry the weight that his does. Schull’s hard-headed truth-seeker is capably balanced by Ashmore’s friendly, everyman deputy, and it’s easy to feel concern for everyone’s safety once lightning strikes begin smashing the property and the aggressive, super-powered alien creatures begin their assault.

Save for a few unconvincing moments of background replacement, the visual effects throughout Devil’s Gate are generally impressive, with some excellent man-in-a-suit action that’s startlingly shot with assured monster movie style. The tension ratchets to great effect as Jackson’s defiance increases, Staub leaving you never quite sure as to what the aliens’ response to his increasing antagonism is going to be. Do Jackson and his family mean something special to the creatures, or is he gambling away the last of his chips with every threat he makes?

Sadly, it isn’t all roses in the garden as Devil’s Gate drops the ball in the final stretch. The ending is satisfyingly dark, but the winding down of Daria’s story is fumbled, sporting some truly hideous dialogue that tries to make a grimly meaningful point about the future of humanity, but will only make you slap your forehead.

Yet one final slip-up during what is a tense, often creepy, and superbly acted fright flick does not a failure make, and everyone involved can give themselves a round of applause. Devil’s Gate tries something new, and reinvigorates the alien invasion sub-genre while it’s at it.

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User Rating 3.31 (13 votes)
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