“DEVIL’S DUE” (Movie Review)
Has the found-footage genre become so commonplace that moviemakers no longer feel the need to justify why anyone keeps filming? DEVIL’S DUE joins this month’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES in presenting scenes from the point of view of cameras whose owners should have long since abandoned the idea of capturing the moment.
For a while, DEVIL’S DUE gets by on the idea that Zach McCall (Zach Gilford) wants to capture every notable moment of his newly married life with Sam (Allison Miller). This includes shooting the sights of their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, where they get lost on menacing streets one night, are picked up by a cabdriver and accept his offer to join him at a party in the creepy bowels of an old building—something Sam, speaking before the audience can, thinks may be a bad idea. The bash turns out to be a good time, and the couple drink too much and wake up the next morning in their hotel room, puzzling over how they got there. You’d think Zach would just check his footage and see—as we already have—that the passed-out Sam was made the subject of a supernatural rite, but for someone obsessed with putting his life on video, he’s remarkably tardy about viewing his own material.
Upon returning home, Zach and Sam discover that their trip has left them with more than a hangover: Sam’s in the family way. The news is initially joyful, before Sam’s condition starts affecting her behavior in weird and violent ways. When an SUV almost knocks her down, she smashes out all its windows with her bare hands, and while shopping in a supermarket, she opens a package of meat and consumes it raw. (This is one of a few moments directly recalling last year’s HELL BABY, which is unfortunate, as a serious horror film shouldn’t put the audience in mind of a spoof of its own subgenre.) Mysterious characters start watching them, their circumstances become increasingly threatening, and all the while, Zach keeps filming for no discernable reason, since when he finally calls a cop late in the game, he doesn’t offer anything he’s shot as evidence.
DEVIL’S DUE isn’t a truly bad film, but it’s an unfortunately familiar and not very scary one. Eschewing the notion that this footage has actually been found and assembled by someone, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and their cohorts in the Radio Silence collective (who did a tighter and tenser job with their segment of V/H/S) tell their story from the point of view of a grab bag of devices: Zach’s handheld and body-worn cameras, some PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-style static (and surreptitious) surveillance rigs—there’s even a bit of CHRONICLE-style flying-through-the-air-cam. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have fun here and there with expectations of the handheld style, but there’s only so much the immediacy of vérité can do for a scenario whose developments largely play as foregone conclusions (particularly when the movie opens with a police interview that explicitly tells us how it’s going to end), and whose ingredients have been in the devil/Antichrist/supernatural-conspiracy mix for generations now.
Perhaps teen viewers unfamiliar with DEVIL’S DUE’s many forebears will find this fresh and scary, though they (hopefully) won’t be able to relate to the pregnancy concerns the moviemakers draw on, with occasionally unsettling results. Particularly squirmy is a bit where the couple’s new OB-GYN (their previous doctor having left and unlikely to come back, nudge nudge) draws amniotic fluid from Sam’s belly, a bit in which the single-unblinking-take style pays dividends. Young couples looking to have kids might get the most fear out of the movie, though they might also wonder how its protagonists afford their nice house, since Sam is still finishing school and there’s no evidence of Zach’s job.
The real issue that brings DEVIL’S DUE down is that its central couple, while likable enough to engage us at the beginning, aren’t drawn in such a way as to involve us in their plight. Zach is remarkably complacent in the face of Sam’s strange behavior and the other troubling developments; one upsetting occurrence after another cuts to Zach behaving as if nothing’s wrong, and there’s no sense of mounting concern or tension until very late in the game. And given the up-close-and-personal possibilities of the first-person approach, DEVIL’S DUE rarely gets under Sam’s skin (figuratively, anyway) to let us into her emotional trauma.
Without a human element to distinguish it, DEVIL’S DUE ends up little more than the sum of its recycled visual and story ploys—at least a few of which should have been long since retired. Not to give too much away, but a postscript furthers the movie’s retrograde conceit of black outsiders preying on happy-go-lucky whites, a theme that even the relatively young found-footage genre ought to be beyond by now.