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Dying whilst dead: 'Devil's Due'

Devil's Due Poster
© 20th Century Fox

Devil's Due (movie)


One of the more accessible film styles of the last decade seems to continue to be the ‘found footage’ genre. Though its birth truly began with the 1980 release of the horror film Cannibal Holocaust by Italian filmmaker Ruggero Deodato, it wasn’t until the wide release of 1999 sensation The Blair Witch Project by Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick that the genre really actually took hold of an audience in the United States. And though there have been multitudes of fine films in the ‘found footage’ (such as REC and The Poughkeepsie Tapes) released in the wake of Blair Witch, it wasn’t till the release of Matt Reeves, Drew Goddard and JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield and Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity that the style has gone from being a subgenre to the expected format of horror movies. And along with these two craze-inducing movies, the flood gates have released a tumultuous amount of schlock onto the market from low-budget tack-ons (such as The Asylum’s Paranormal Entity) to big-budget exploitation that hasn’t yet turned out a decent installment in the genre (see the films The Devil Inside , The Last Exorcism and The Chernobyl Diaries). And since this high running off horribly-made ‘found footage’ films hasn’t run its course as of yet, we were greeted to a brand new installment with the release of Devil’s Due.

Personally it seems to be that the pitch for this movie would simply have been: “Its Rosemary’s Baby meets Paranormal Activity.” And just based on that base observation, it could have even been predicted that this movie wouldn’t be either effective or logically executed just due to the premise. There have been more films than one may want to personally count when the birth of the antichrist is the subject in a film. It’s been played out in films since the early 1900s and to this day it hasn’t changed its formula, where the mother realizes something is wrong and the husband tries to explain things rationally even far past the point where science and logic would explain the events taking place in the movie. And the husband character of Zach (played by Zach Gilford) is one of the more increasingly dim characters ever put in this situation.

The film is of a newly-wed couple who goes on their honeymoon, are drugged and than a ceremony is undertaken when they are unconscious to help along the birth of the antichrist. And the rest of the movie is waiting for them to figure it out as the pandering and oh-we’ve-no-clue-what’s-going-on attitude is embraced by everyone but the audience. By the time the characters were presented with an obvious situation where things aren’t quite usual (which was within the first fifteen minutes of the film) the entire movie became painfully predictable, and every time they would elude to what was taking place, the audience knew well before these rather less-than-standard thinking characters. One of the great alluring aspects of effective horror filmmaking is the ability to throw ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances (whether by supernatural or human elements) and the true terror of the experience comes from not only not knowing what might jump out an scare us, but the capability that the filmmakers possess to incur empathetic bonds with the protagonist. One of the reasons Rosemary’s Baby is such an effective and utterly scary film is the authentic human connection we make with Mia Farrow’s character, and this was also due to the fact we knew just as little as she did and we weren’t let in on the secrets until the final reveal. Sure jump-scares and gore are always good means of provoking emotional reactions from audience members, but what make horror films scary and involving is that the audience experiences everything along with the characters, which is sadly missing from Devil’s Due. The film begins with a flash-forward to the husband Zach being interviewed by police to what had occurred, he covered in blood and constantly playing with his wedding band. These two elements scream out that his wife Samantha (played by Allison Miller) is dead, the end of the film is already established, now it was just a matter of getting there.

And even if the predictability of the plot and characters were overlooked, the way the film was made also causes many issues, to a point where the whole of the film becomes absolutely unrealistic. And true, there is only so much realism in a film about the birth of the antichrist, but the last element that makes a horror film effective (or work in general) is the suspension of disbelief. Though this is a key element for filmmaking in general, in horror movies it is absolutely essential to the survival of the movie through its duration. The use of the camera within the context of the film makes absolutely no sense, its constant use (including using a hands-free explorer cam attached to Zach’s chest) and ‘coincidental’ elements found on the footage later (that was stolen) was always too coincidental. It always seemed to capture the right shot at the right moment where something off-kilter was occurring. And sure, where this could be a possibility, and it is used in Paranormal Activity to find the creepy goings-on. However, unlike in Paranormal Activity, whose characters had already been experiencing surreal occurrences and possible haunting when the camera was supposedly purchased, the cast of Devil’s Due only have the camera around to record home movies for the baby when it was older. This flimsy premise for the use of the camera is very much one of the reasons Cloverfield did not work. The logic of the human characters should overcome the need to film every little thing with the very real danger they are currently in. And with the cameras and memory cards being taken by the cult who had done this, the ‘found’ aspect of the movie is rendered moot.

And sure, the hands-free camera in this film is able to include the kinetic atmosphere and the adrenaline of the protagonists, but its placement and use in the scene is never either declared or its stated reason is so superficial that the whole of the film ceases to work at all. And even though it didn’t switch styles half-way through the film like The Devil Inside, this film is simply bad. The one redeeming aspect of the entire production is the acting by both Allison Miller and Sam Anderson as the priest Father Thomas. These two were the most dedicated to their roles and they played up their half-built characters very well. However, never once was Anderson’s character utilized to assist the story at all (one scene seemed to be leading that way with Father Thomas in the hospital for a devil-induced stroke by Samantha, but Zach continues to be so dense that any information gathered is wasted regardless).

All in all, this film’s seven-million-dollar budget was squandered on all the wrong elements. If Devils' Due was shot traditionally with a heavy emphasis on gothic overtones and what effects the whole experience has on the protagonists than simply it happening to them and that’s it, it would have made for at least a more interesting narrative, if not a scary one.

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