D: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett / 89m
Cast: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Roger Payano, Vanessa Ray
Newlyweds Sam (Miller) and Zach (Gilford) have their honeymoon in Santo Domingo. On their last night, having got lost wandering around the town where they’re staying, they accept a lift from a cab driver (Payano) who persuades the couple to go with him to a club. Once there, Sam is led down to a cellar; when Zach follows he is knocked unconscious. The next day they return home but without any recollection of what happened in the cellar. Soon after, Sam finds out she’s pregnant. Both are delighted, but what begins as a happy circumstance soon turns sour as problems with the pregnancy make themselves manifest. Sam displays behavioural changes that are worrying, and the couple find their house being watched by strangers in the street. As the pregnancy nears its end, Zach discovers a plot involving the baby that points toward the involvement of devil worshippers and a horrible revelation.
It’s amazing to think now that The Blair Witch Project was released as long ago as 1999. Back then, the idea of a movie made from “found” video footage was inventive and, in the hands of directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, genuinely unsettling. Fifteen years on, and with what seems like a million “found” footage movies having been released in the interim, it comes as no surprise to find that Devil’s Due takes this format and fails to do anything remotely interesting with it. While the idea of someone filming key moments in their life is entirely understandable and credible, filming almost every moment, or taking the camera with them when weird/strange/crazy things happen, clearly isn’t. And yet filmmakers continue to foist unappealing characters making unconvincing decisions on us on what seems like a weekly basis.
So weak is the concept – husband recording his wife’s pregnancy for posterity – and so limited, the filmmakers have to introduce hidden cameras into Sam and Zach’s house in order to provide the movie with enough footage. It’s a given that these movies are contrived, but as this is quite clearly a rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), you have to wonder why the filmmakers didn’t take a cue from that movie’s subtlety, and dial back on the rampant absurdity. It’s also a shame that Sam and Zach are two of the most annoying, and incredibly dull, characters to be found in any “found” footage movie (though if you’re a fan of the genre, don’t worry, Micah Sloat from the first Paranormal Activity still wears the crown for that one). Even before things turn weird they don’t behave normally, so it’s hard to tell if they’re reacting correctly or that they don’t have any real appreciation for, or understanding of, what’s going on. With Zach being particularly vapid it becomes difficult to tell if Gilford is playing the role as written and with guidance from his directors, or that’s just his style of acting.
There are the usual risible moments throughout: Zach only looks at the footage from the honeymoon several months later (and when it’s too late) to discover something of what happened in the club; Sam’s encounter with some teens in the nearby woods with its Chronicle-style special effects; Sam’s scaring a child half to death and there being no fallout or consequences from that; the local priest (Anderson) serving as a warning of what will happen to Zach if he interferes too much; and pretty much any occasion where the camera is set down in exactly the right place to provide a totally non-scary moment. The hidden camera set ups provide their own sense of absurdity too, and by the movie’s climax their positioning has been forgotten about in order to provide a couple of effective shots that wouldn’t have worked otherwise (cameras in the skirting boards? really, guys? because that’s what it looks like).
With an annoying coda that could mean sequels to come, Devil’s Due is proof if any were needed that the “found” footage sub-genre of horror movies is well and truly played out. If there is to be any way forward for this style of filmmaking then it will need something really imaginative to turn things around. With the Paranormal Activity series having run out of steam by its third outing (but still going “strong”), all Devil’s Due does is make the viewer wish for some real creativity and some real thought to be present in current horror fare, as well as credible characters and most of all, some really good scares. Because there’s nothing like that here.
Rating: 4/10 – a dreadful mishmash of ideas and tangled plotting, directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett prove unable to make Devil’s Due anything other than derivative and uninspired; if you’re a fan of Rosemary’s Baby then this is one movie that you’d be best avoiding.