Nowadays it seems like you can’t even look down your own pants without seeing the trailer for a new found footage horror movie, or a possession thriller, or a combination of both, which is what we have here with Devil’s Due. Not only does it riff on The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist as so many of its contemporaries do, it also looks to Rosemary’s Baby for plot inspiration, as does at least one other new horror release. The horror genre, in 2014, is where ideas go to die.
What we get first with Devil’s Due is a lengthy explanation as to why it’s all found footage, but at least this part is believable – the finished product assembles footage from everywhere, including other peoples’ cameras, CCTV footage from the Dominican Republic, and so on. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillett have responded to this, stating in interviews that it was a deliberate choice given that “audiences are way too smart to have the this is real found footage wool pulled over their eyes anymore,” which in turn begs the question: Why not just film it normally so that it makes actual sense?
This certainly ruins the experience of a film that frequently shows great ability and, when it doesn’t, suffers greatly. It reaches a peak in the middle where most films tend to slump, and it’s around this time that some of its most frightening scenes take place. It starts to look promising, and almost serves to rectify the first twenty minutes where we were treated to an absolute ton of foreshadowing, obviously, and an otherwise general lack of direction. As with the Paranormal Activity movies – which Devil’s Due directly apes at certain points – there is quite a lot of humour in the quieter moments of the first half, and this comes straight from the performances of Zach Gilford and Allison Miller, both of whom carry the film well and provide laughs with ease.
But I guess laughs aren’t what this movie’s for. Too bad, seeing as even when it gets serious it can tend to be unintentionally funny, such as with the changes that happen with Samantha (Miller). She does a lot of staring, in fact, which can be chilling to see, but due to their ridiculous nature, they’re amusing to think about. For instance, she goes shopping and then stares at beef for absolutely ages; she then stares at a priest until it gives him a stroke; and once she becomes better at staring, she’s able to simply glance at some kid and send him flying. Also, the secret cult who begin stalking the protagonists have a religious sigil which strikes the fear into everyone who sees it, yet it looks suspiciously like the euro symbol. Oh, and when Zach (Gilford) breaks into the house of his freaky stalkers, he goes armed with… a camera.
These are a few of the reasons this idiot film threatens to fall flat on its arse. But the deadliest blow comes from the fact that, while certain scenes are terrifying, it simply doesn’t build up enough tension elsewhere, or even seem like it’s trying. It’s a shame because there are some very good aspects about this movie – the acting, some of the scares, the scene where a car nearly reverses into Samantha, causing her to flip out and break all its windows – and it’s missing just a few key pieces that could have potentially made it very good. But these are key pieces, fundamental errors in the filmmaking that could only be overcome by restarting the whole process.
It appears very honest in its approach, which is what makes its failure more annoying. It seems as though the filmmakers have put their heart and soul into making a scary movie based on all their other favourite scary movies, but it quickly commits suicide by going from building momentum as a decent psychological horror, then in a single moment zipping straight past the surreal, the bizarre, the improbable, the impossible and straight into oblivion, where belief was never to be witnessed again. Nevertheless, I’d be interested to see what the crew behind Devil’s Due do next, because there are a lot of strong ideas here that, with a better approach, could work wonders. This movie is worse than it deserves to be.
P.S. – Why is the villain played by the only black guy in the entire movie?
Devil’s Due was directed by Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillett, written by Lindsay Devlin and stars Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Aimee Carrero, Vanessa Ray, Michael Papajohn and Griff Furst. It lasts for 89 minutes and is a production of Davis Entertainment. Distributed in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Originally released in 2014.