– Summary –
Director : Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Zach Gilford, Allison Miller, Sam Anderson, Aimee Carrero, Vanessa Ray, Michael Papajohn, Griff Furst.
Approx Running Time : 89 Minutes
Synopsis: A young couple are unwittingly impregnated by a spawn of Satan whilst on their honeymoon. Their initial joy turns to catastrophe as unexplained events begin to occur around them – all recorded on digital video, no less.
What we think : Fairly standard “found footage” film actually delivers some minor entertainment by way of a spooky, Rosemary’s Baby-knock off in the form of a modern couple update. While much of what transpires is designed purely to shock or (more often) deliver some fairly freaky and unique visual effects, the clunky dialogue and poorly developed characters remove much of what potential this film had going for it. Filmed for under $10 million, Devil’s Due is a good B-level scare flick, although somewhat cliched and often derivative.
While it’s become painfully obvious to everyone that the “found footage” genre of film has long since worn out its welcome – and in doing so, has almost become a parody of itself! – Hollywood still continues to churn out these largely low-budget shockers in the vain hope that somebody, somewhere, will stumble upon another Blair Witch Project. And, like the lemmings we have become, film fans will continue to hold out hope that one day, we’ll stumble upon a found film worthy of the time it takes to watch; more’s the pity, that dream seems less and less likely, thanks to imitators and copy-cats all willing to chuck together rote and generic genre entries that do little other than dilute the gene pool. Devil’s Due, a low budget supernatural horror flick from the two guys who brought us V/H/S, is something of a surprise. Yes, it’s a “found footage” film, which automatically shunts it into the “oh crud” basket for most, but as an experiment in not giving a rat’s ass about a film being “found”, I was reasonably surprised at just how much I enjoyed this one.
Newly married couple Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller) spend their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, where, on their final night, they end up lost and stranded; a friendly cab driver picks them up and offers to take them to a little-known party hotspot; initially reticent, the pair eventually agree, and end up passing out, totally smashed. Waking up the next morning, they have no memory of what transpired after they passed out – we know, thanks to Zach’s dedication to recording every detail of their trip on both handycam and lapel-pin camera – but upon their return find that Samantha has become pregnant. Initially joyful, the pair begin the journey to parenthood, however things begin to take a sinister turn when the pregnancy begins to elicit weird and mysterious events – furniture moving and mysterious figures lurking in the shadows; their very home is bugged with cameras watching their every move. When Zach uncovers the recording of the flaming events of their honeymoon’s “blank spot”, he soon realizes that not all is well with his wife or their gestating child. As he starts to take action, however, forces conspire to keep him (and everyone else, for that matter) from preventing the birth of what could very well be a spawn of Satan.
I guess I deserved it, really. I went into this film cold, knowing nothing about it other than the cover of the DVD looked really cool. Spo0ky. Ten seconds after kicking “play”, I soon realized that I was in for yet another “found footage” film and I nearly, nearly mind you, switched it off. I’m kinda glad I didn’t, because I would have missed a fairly enthralling, if utterly cliched, horror flick that goes a long way to rectifying the unmitigated turdery the genre has suffered along the lines of The Last Exorcism (and it’s godawful sequel). Devil’s Due is obviously low budget, and where that might turn some folks away, for this film it really does work for the plot. Having to overcome the obvious trope of just how to keep a “found footage” film justified is a big step this film navigates early on – Zach’s a zealous camera-fan, happy to put everything he experiences on tape (as it were), but the film doesn’t just rely on him for it’s “footage”. No, this film is cobbled from a variety of sources, allowing lead’s Gilford and Miller to actually remain on the screen a fair amount of the time through this one. It’s a good genre jab to achieve this, as it prevents viewer fatigue in having to imagine the face of the “person behind the camera” a lot of the time, a factor which played a big part of the small criticism I had with Cloverfield.
As far as plot goes, Devil’s Due isn’t the most astonishing narrative construct to ever burp forth from Hollywood. It’s simple to the extreme, allowing the film to focus on building atmosphere and tension, and in this regard I think Devil’s Due is an unqualified success. What the film does, it does well, depending on your expectations I guess; my personal expectations were set really low considering I had none to begin with, but if you’re thinking “oh really, how can another found footage film possibly bring anything new to the table?”, then you’ll possibly find less to enjoy with this outing than I did. With a simple story, it follows that the characters are particularly single-note – Zach’s a fairly gregarious, easy-going dude who loves his new wife and wants a baby more than anything, while Samantha is more reserved and hesitant about just “going with the flow”, a factor which plays out in their inevitable end-game confrontation where Sam tells Zach she never wanted the baby in the first place (gasp! – spoiler….!). Neither Zach Gilford or Allison Miller are able to provide much gravitas or depth to their roles, since they spend a large part of the film simply reacting to events as they transpire, but they’re not total blocks of wood either. The supporting cast, from Sam Anderson as their poor priest, Father Thomas, to a blink-and-miss-it Michael Papajohn as a cop who doesn’t quite believe Zach’s outlandish claims, service the story to the best of their ability, but you’re not watching this for the characters – you’re watching it for shit to go down.
And go down it does. Devil’s Due’s low budget fascia might indicate a holding back on large scale Satan-centric special effects, but you’d be wrong. The film does have some really cool effects throughout, the kind you might have spotted in Chronicle, and to a fair degree they really do add some punch to the generic storyline. Most of the really cool stuff happens late in the third act, as everything goes to shit: people are flung through the air by a telekinetically possessed Samantha, furniture is flung around rooms, and the ground shudders with every contraction of Sam’s birthing wrenches. Make no mistake, the third act of this film is worth a look, it’s only a shame it’s supported by a less-than-great opening two-thirds. The film is helmed by directing pair Matt Bettinelle-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and together they’ve woven a taut, effective spook-fest that delivers the requisite tension and sucker-punch storytelling any good horror flick needs. They certainly know their way around a low budget, that’s for sure. Give them a decent budget and a decent script, and who knows what they might deliver?
Devil’s Due is middle-ground thrills at best. It’s largely forgettable, certainly entirely generic, and founded upon a hundred other genre entries that have substantially lessened the impact of this material – it cribs from Rosemary’s Baby to a large degree, although it substitutes Mia Farrow for Zach Gilford here – but for what it offers, there’s a certain “gung ho” enthusiasm mustered behind the camera that elevates it where it might have otherwise stumbled. Convincing effects assist, as do atmospheric sets and location shooting, and the thunderously over-the-top soundtrack (particularly in the latter third) bring a certain sense of energy to a film that has no right being as good as it is. It’s not a keeper, but for fans of the genre (however many of you are left!) and folks looking for a no-brainer night of scares in front of the box, you could do a lot worse than Devil’s Due.