Saturday, 18 January 2014

Devil's Due - Review

Dir: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Devil's Due is not the worst new horror film I've seen in the past 12 months. Please, don't take that as any sort of recommendation. The industry should be hanging its head in shame that not only did it produce this excrementally poor pile of badly shot clich├ęs, but that it's actually recently done worse. 

Devil's Due is a found footage film [sigh] about Zach and Sam (Zach Gilford and Alison Miller), a pair of newlyweds who find that they are pregnant much sooner than planned after their honeymoon. As the pregnancy continues strange things begin to happen both to Sam and in the house. Zach sees people watching their house and becomes increasingly worried and convinced that these events are connected to a strange symbol they saw on the last night of their holiday.

I'm not a great fan of the found footage technique, nor of the way it has come to such prevalence in the horror genre of late.  This film has all the familiar problems that the style throws up, and adds a few of its own.  For me the most pressing question of a found footage film is 'what are we watching'?  There is absolutely no sense of this in Devil's Due, which begins with Police interview footage before switching to (edited) home video taken largely by Zach, who says that he likes to document everything because that what his Dad did (this will never become important).  Later in the film we also see security camera footage cut into the home video.  So what are we watching?  Who cut this together and why?  The film never attempts to frame an answer to this question, even though you can see how it might extract scares from doing so.

The film also appears to recognise the weaknesses of the found footage style, or certainly of the reliance on the characters filming everything, because in its second half it becomes ever more reliant on security camera footage.  This could be because the filmmakers want to show conversations they don't believe that Zach would film, or it could be so they can rip off Paranormal Activity as well as Rosemary's Baby.  I'm guessing it's the latter, given the rest of the film.  In addition to these issues there are many sequences, notably a couple of church scenes, that cheat the found footage gimmick, shooting from an impossible selection of angles (unless we're supposed to be seeing footage from several people's camcorders edited together, but again, who edited it if that's the case?)

There are opportunities for depth here, but the film shuns every one of them.  For instance, Zach and Sam begin the film by getting married in a church.  So are they religious?  How does that then play in to deciding to keep an unexpected pregnancy, especially when there are, to put it mildly, complications?  How does it play into the idea, brought up very late, that there may be some early religious symbol related to the coming of the Antichrist connected to this preganancy?  The film never bothers to address any of these questions.  Religion seems to be here as nothing more than an iconographic trapping, draped over the film to no purpose.

The lack of depth also extends to the characters.  Zach and Sam seem to be young upwardly mobile people, they've got a big house.  I wonder how they afford that big house, we never get any sense of what Zach does and Sam is apparently a student.  A student of what?  The film doesn't appear to know or care, she's basically an incubator with a pretty face drawn on it.  Neither of them has any personality and that goes double for the ciphers that surround them.  When Zach calls someone late in the film after finding something odd in their honeymoon video I had no idea who that person was or why Zach would call him rather than anyone else.  This is typical of this incredibly slapdash film, which unfolds less as a narrative and more as a series of bits, most of them lifted from other films.

Devil's Due is ungodly ugly to look at.  The found footage style means that for the first half of the running time the film is almost always in close up and the frame is constantly juddering, while the second half adds boringly static security footage to the mix.  When something is actually happening (which is rare) you can barely see it and otherwise you're watching a whole lot of badly shot and edited nothing.

From the derivative story to the thin characters to the slapdash camerawork, editing and continuity the whole feeling of Devil's Due is one of “Will this do?”  No.  No it won't.  We have to make that point clear to Hollywood by rejecting shit like this and demanding that they make and release better horror films.  They're out there.  This won't do.

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