Written by: Lindsay Devlin
Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Starring: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, and Sam Anderson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Not all miracles come from God.
Once a pretty clever and innovative technique, found footage has become a predictable ingredient in a recipe, sort of like water for readymade food: just add a dash of it to a preexisting formula, and you’ve got something that’s at least digestible. The formula for Devil’s Due is pretty obvious, as your old pal Satan is here to get in on the action and implant his demon seed, an old trick you might remember from such films as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. I’d hate to see that motherfucker’s child support payments at this point.
Despite the big studio packaging, this effort actually hails from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Taylor Gillett, who formed half of the group billed as Radio Silence for the nightmarish capper on V/H/S, and their final product reveals that the duo is certainly familiar with the recipe, but they struggle with adding their own flavor.
Along with screenwriter Lindsay Devlin, they do dispense with the mystery that surrounded previous films of this ilk with a verse from John that warns about the end of days and the antichrists (yes, plural) that will entail. We’re only privy to the conception for one of them though, as the film introduces us to newlywed couple Zach and Samantha McCall (Zach Gilford and Allison Miller), who have decided to film everything as part of a family history (thus partially justifying why a camera’s always around). Unfortunately, even their camera isn’t much help when they lose some time during a wild, party-filled night on their honeymoon that also included a foreboding fortune teller and a way-too-friendly cabbie. Upon returning home, they’re surprised to discover that Samantha’s pregnant—and they’d be downright shell-shocked if they administered a paternity test.
As formula, Devil’s Due benefits from having multiple templates to pilfer from: not only does it borrow liberally from the found footage blueprint, but it also cherry-picks the highlights from Rosemary’s Baby. It’s a natural mix that blends the creeping terror of Ira Levin’s tale with the slow-burn, escalatory approach of found footage, but it’s so ruthlessly adherent that it feels a little mechanical. The double dose of déjà vu will have seasoned viewers setting their watch to the plot developments and many of the scare tactics: you’ve got your subtle scares up front, some freaky business involving a poor, unwitting priest and a creepy doctor (a development straight outta Rosemary), some timely exposition to clarify just what in the hell is going on, and, finally, a bloody, rip-roaring climax that perhaps goes a little too big and loud, if we’re being honest—the final development should be a little more affecting but is drowned out in the pyrotechnics.
To their credit, Bettinelli-Opin and Gillett attempt to combat the familiarity with some wrinkles to shake up the formula. While much of the film is shot from Zach’s POV, the directors eventually stitch together multiple camera angles to form a more varied pastiche. In one of the film’s more memorable sequences, a story security cam catches vegetarian Samantha munching down on raw meat, much to the disgust of the baffled onlookers (I like to think this was staged as a Jackass-style prank). Given the fealty to Rosemary’s Baby, it’s not surprising when a cult moves into the decrepit, abandoned house down the block; however, their intrusion frees the film up to allow for more camera angles and setups when the group begins to spy on the couple.
Of course, even this just causes the film to mutate into the umpteenth riff on Paranormal Activity, so what are you going to do? Some of the scares are admittedly effective, even if most rely on lulling the audience with silence before sending a jolt through them (there’s at least a half-dozen fake scares). Actual, palatable dread is more scant: the early honeymoon sequences have a nice, otherworldly quality that gives one the impression that this couple has stepped near the threshold of hell, while Zach’s climactic investigation of the cult’s shuttered abode is suitably creepy. Maybe the devil and his shenanigans are just a little too predictable at this point, but this particular take lacks the suffocating paranoia and apocalyptic portent of his previous outings (despite a coda that hints that Satan is definitely out to fulfill that prophecy involving multiple antichrists—now that’s the movie I’d like to see).
Devil's Due almost works on an intimate level, though; both Gilford and Miller have a natural, lived-in charisma that’s crucial for the film’s faux-verite trappings (if that’s even the aim anymore—at this point, found footage has become more of an empty style rather than an attempt to imply reality). While Gilford is a touch overbearing as a unwaveringly nice guy, Miller is spot on as the more fascinating Samantha, whose sparse character details tease a meatier movie: orphaned after her parents perished in a car wreck, she’s persevered and even finds herself close to finishing college when the unexpected pregnancy occurs. Unfortunately, her conflicted feelings are given only a brief consideration before she’s relegated to simply carrying the demon seed and performing the standard-issue possession routine. By the time she’s flinging victims around with telekinetic powers, it’s easy to forget the human stakes that grounded the film in the first place.
There’s little doubt that the directing duo is thoughtful in their craft here; sure, the film doesn’t escape many of the format’s inherent logical pitfalls (for all their care to avoid it, they still leave you wondering why certain characters would continue filming, and Zach dopily never checks his footage until it’s too late), but Devil’s Due is a slickly engineered and visceral ride. It’s just too bad that it’s just a well-glazed piece of reheated meat, a familiar collection of flavors that’s quickly absorbed into a palette of similar offerings during the past few years. If nothing else, it fares better than Satan’s other recent January haunts (“it’s not as bad as The Devil Inside”—there’s your pull quote, Fox!); still, maybe someone should introduce the dark lord to some contraception methods for a while. Rent it!
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