Film distributors must think that after all the sweetness of the holidays, audiences are starving for something sour, like a richly nasty horror tale. They’re opening a lot of horror this month as “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” opened on January 3, and now “Devil’s Due” is in theaters just two weeks later. Unfortunately, neither movie is worth a look, and I dare say, ol’ Satan is probably due a lot more than the soulless drudgery on display here.
If you’ve seen the trailer for “Devil’s Due” you know exactly what you’re getting. A married couple gets pregnant and it becomes apparent that the young woman is carrying the spawn of a demon. As effective as some of the jump scare shots are in the previews, the actual film itself is painfully dull. It contains very few legitimate scares and instead is filled with wall-to-wall nauseatingly bad camera work and two inane lead characters that create little audience empathy. It's almost as bad as last year's devil-themed dud that was also a handheld mess - "The Last Exorcism 2" (http://exm.nr/1mbZPtA). Ungodly.
The story starts with a bloodied young man named Zach McCall (Zach Gilford) being interrogated in a police station. We don’t know what happened exactly, but he glowers and confesses he didn’t do it. Then an elaborate flashback starts that shows McCall as an earnest young man eight months earlier, telling his bride-to-be Samantha (Allison Miller) that he wants to film all of their life together. Of course what this really does is allow the filmmakers to have everything that happens be ‘documented’. Fine, that’s what ‘found footage’ horror is all about, but it isn’t too long before other sources of videography start mixing in, and it begs the question of just how all this video was accumulated.
Nonetheless, if you can get past that illogic, you might have been primed for a good frightener, but this film isn't it. It quickly turns into bad craftsmanship and silly storytelling that makes one slump back in the movie seat rather than sit on the edge of it. It starts when Zach gets a button camera that he clamps onto his shirt so that he can keep up the filming without having to hold a cumbersome camera. But that placement offers up way too many shots of his wife’s neck, the ground, and other badly framed perspectives. Ten minutes into the movie and the shaky camera work was so stomach churning, I realized that no grisly effect later in the running time would be nearly as effective.
Soon we see the couple honeymooning in the Dominican Republic. There, Zach tells his missus that he wants to protect her, but quickly allows a shady cabdriver to chauffeur them to an ultra creepy nightclub which turns out to actually be an occult den. (So much for his vows to protect.) Upon their return to the States, they’re soon expecting. And it isn’t long before the naïve couple realizes something is amiss. From there on out, the film is one painful slog towards the inevitable destruction of wife, family and hopes to qualify for a good pre-school.
Even if you like ‘found footage’ films, or occult horror, this one offers little freshness on either count. It was sold to Fox as “found footage takes on Rosemary’s Baby” (http://bit.ly/1fH7tie) and ultimately it’s not much more than that; more premise than promise. It can’t begin to hold a Wiccan candle to Roman Polanski’s 1968 terror classic. That film generated more scares when merely gazing at Ruth Gordon through the keyhole. CGI bloated bellies, bleeding priests and Satanic chalk circles do not a true frightener make. This film has all the props, but precious little sense of palpable tension.
The script by Lindsay Devlin strives to create a couple with some real chemistry but they’re simply too slow on the uptake for us to wholly invest in. At least Mia Farrow’s Rosemary realized “this is really happening!” a lot earlier than any of the characters here do. And the directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet did one of the darkly comic gems in the anthology frightener “V/H/S” back in 2012 (http://exm.nr/1gXLJLv). Unfortunately, none of that film’s cheeky sense of black comedy shows up this go-round.
Perhaps the devil has become too omnipresent in the horror genre to be truly frightening these days. Beelzebub has gone the way of zombies and stayed too long at the dance. So has ‘found footage’ and I’m ready for the start of a new year in horror where the market isn’t over-saturated with that hoary style of handheld filmmaking. Sadly, 2014 isn’t going to be that year. By God, I just hope February isn’t nearly as ugly.