Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Devil's Due (2014)

The month of January has long been stigmatized as Hollywood's dumping ground. Low-budget genre movies and stuff that the studios think may underperform or just plain stink are often released not long after New Year's just so they can possibly make a little money from audiences that are worn out by the holidays and are looking for a little relief from miserable winter weather. This year's movie dump began a few weeks ago with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and continues onward with another "found footage" movie, Devil's Due. I've never had a problem with found footage horror movies, but much like zombie movies, every one I see nowadays is just dime-a-dozen claptrap. Such was the case with Devil's Due, a movie that despite a few good moments never really reaches above mediocrity.

The movie focuses on Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller), a young couple who've just recently gotten married. While honeymooning in the Dominican Republic, Zach and Samantha are picked up by an aggressively friendly cab driver who offers to take them to the hottest nightclub in town. They agree to go once they realize the driver won't take no for an answer, and end up partying all night with other tourists. Things take a dark turn, though, when a passed-out Samantha is secretly taken to what appears to be the nightclub's basement and has a satanic ritual performed on her.

Zach and Samantha awaken in their hotel room the next morning with terrible hangovers and no idea how they got back to the hotel, and since actually watching what was filmed rarely occurs to anyone in found footage movies, they casually return home. Seven weeks later, Samantha discovers she's pregnant despite having taken birth control pills on a regular basis. They're shocked but overjoyed, but the joy gives way to fear as the months pass when they realize all is not right with their unborn baby. It starts with Samantha having random nosebleeds and cravings for raw meat despite being a vegetarian. And then there's her fits of rage, yelling at Zach over minor inconveniences and shattering car windows with her bare hands. Coupling this with the strange people watching their house at all hours of the day and night and the strange happenings at the abandoned house down the street, it soon becomes apparent that their baby is anything but normal.

My expectations going into Devil's Due were honestly pretty low. I'd heard it had gotten overwhelmingly lousy reviews and the commercials didn't exactly sell me on the movie either, plus I was still in kind of a funk after being disappointed by the new Paranormal Activity movie a few weeks ago. But I was feeling brave and decided to see it anyway. I left the theater feeling conflicted. I honestly didn't hate the movie, having actually enjoyed several parts of it. But it was just parts that I liked, not the complete package. There were just as many elements that dragged it down as there were ones that I liked, which ends up making me wish I'd just stayed home and rented the DVD from Netflix in a few months and saved myself the effort of having to drive to the theater.

The movie was directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gilbert from the filmmaking quartet known as "Radio Silence." The duo have plenty of experience with found footage, having worked with the other members of Radio Silence on the fantastic "10/31/98" segment of V/H/S along with a number of shorts featured on YouTube. There were some real flashes of brilliance here, with some scenes that are genuinely spooky and others that are very tense and suspenseful. The only bad part is that a lot of the movie feels like padding. One really gets the feeling that the movie was a short film that had gotten stretched out to feature length. Some of that is due to the lackluster script (which I'll get to later), but there's so much boring filler between the good stuff that it makes the rest of the movie look bad.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gilbert also take some real liberties with the "found footage" concept. The reasoning behind the constant camera use is flimsy enough, but Bettinelli-Olpin and Gilbert cheat by utilizing store security cameras, along with footage from spy cameras installed in the McCall house by the evil cult behind all the supernatural shenanigans. Hell, the whole found footage gimmick in general just feels unnecessary here. The movie could have worked just as easily as a traditional movie. Upon reflect, that's probably why they went with security cameras and hidden cameras, to do regular movie stuff and found footage at the same time. And to me, that just feels kinda cheap.

But the directors could only improve upon the lousy script so much. Penned by Lindsay Devlin, the script for Devil's Due is almost unforgivably weak. It meanders on at a snail's pace, never really going anywhere and only occasionally doing anything worthwhile. By the time the climax arrives, it's like Devlin realized how much time has been wasted and just rushes into it.

There's also isn't any mystery behind Samantha's weird pregnancy for two simple facts: The whole evil cult thing is barely ever brought up. It's alluded to at the beginning of the movie during the honeymoon scenes, and outside of their covert installation of the spy cameras and one terrible setup that shows the cult is watching her while she's out and about (it's painfully obvious that Samantha's new OB/GYN is a member of the cult even though the movie tries to play it like a big reveal at the end), the evil cult doesn't play much of a part in the movie until the last ten or fifteen minutes.

That, along with the lousy pacing of the movie, is the biggest problem I had with it. Both the directors and the writer have structured the movie in such an odd way that it's hard for it to get in a real groove. Scenes go on way too long and wear out their welcome, while other scenes that could have improved the movie in establishing a creepy, frightening vibe by appearing earlier don't show up until we're almost to the end. The most effective scenes are so late in the movie that by the time they arrive, less-enthusiastic audience members might have given up on the whole thing.

There are two consistently good elements to this movie, though, in the form of its two primary actors. Zach Gilford and Allison Miller are the absolute best parts of Devil's Due. Both of them are charming and likable, with a believable chemistry together and never wavering when there characters show some of the flaws the characters in other found footage movies have. I especially liked Miller, who added a sympathetic feeling to her character that she needed. You honestly find yourself feeling awful for her with each scene thanks to the earnestness she brings to the role.

I wish I could say that about the whole of Devil's Due, but I can't. Some movies can overcome a few flaws by playing to its own strengths, but this movie never does that. It's one of those mixed bags that never really gels into a decent whole. I'm actually surprised it got a theatrical release from a major Hollywood studio, because it feels like it could have gone straight to video. I noted in the introduction that found footage movies are becoming a dime a dozen, and Devil's Due unfortunately lends credence to that theory. The movie's worth a rental if you're trying to slap together a horror movie marathon at the last minute, but really, the devil could have delivered something better.

Final Rating: **½

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