Review: DEVIL’S DUE (2014){0}

As usual: what was once the domain of indie filmmakers with more creativity than cash has become dominated by the major distributors. We’re talking about “found footage horror,” a storytelling gimmick that was resurrected by The Blair Witch Project several years ago, and has since become a sort of playground for indie filmmakers all over the world. But as soon as Paramount hit the super jackpot with their initial Paranormal Activity acquisition, the writing was on the wall: these movies are super cheap to make and even when they bomb they make good money. (Cue a laundry list of movies like Apollo 18, The Devil Inside, and four Paranormal Activity sequels – so far.)
But there is a silver lining to all this: sometimes a big studio wants to make a small horror movie, and they actually do it by hiring the right people. This time it’s Fox who is pushing for a piece of the found footage pay-off, but to the studio’s credit, they brought in a group of filmmakers who are unofficially known as ‘Radio Silence.’ Horror fans will know their work from the excellent final segment of the first V/H/S movie, and horror superfreaks (like me) will appreciate their first feature as a horror flick that combines new-fangled digital technology with old-fashioned horror concepts like mood, character, restraint, and (eventually) some well-presented thrills, chills, and occult-oriented kills.

Virtually a remake (perhaps even a “literalization”) of Roman Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby, Devil’s Due is about a very charming pair of newlyweds who do something really stupid during their honeymoon in Mexico, lose track of a few hours (!), and head home to discover that Samantha (Allison Miller) is pregnant, and that Zach (Zach Gilford) is, well… he’s really happy about the news. One of the key assets in Devil’s Due is how smoothly likable the main couple is. We start to feel protective of Sam and Zach even before all holy hell starts breaking loose.

Devil’s Due is a “haunted pregnancy” horror story, and unfortunately that makes a generally tight little thriller feel a bit more predictable than a pure indie film might. An optimist, however, might call the Devil’s Due screenplay by Lindsay Devlin a darkly passionate homage to Rosemary’s Baby. (It even has the “creepy new doctor pops up” subplot.) One can’t help but think the similarities are both intentional and affectionate.

As is often the case with horror films of this sort – since we cannot logically cut away to subplots that might involve horror without destroying the tension of the main story – Devil’s Due drags a little bit in the mid-section, but between the appealing set-up and the grimly satisfying finale, one can forgive a little Act II meandering. But – and this is an important “but” – there probably isn’t anyone better at “framing” found footage than cinematographer Justin Martinez and co-directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. These are not just “turn the camera on and shoot” filmmakers, and even when Devil’s Due resorts to the “secret cameras hidden all throughout the house” gimmick, they’re clever enough to frame their shots for maximum eeriness and old-school atmosphere.

Had Devil’s Due deviated just a bit further from the well-established Rosemary’s Baby framework, it would probably make for a more noteworthy horror film. But then again, Devil’s Due would probably be a whole lot more unique if it wasn’t a Fox production. Taken as a welcome combination between big studio money-chasing and indie-style horror enthusiasm, however, Devil’s Due is not a bad little movie. You’ll probably know every beat of the story before it happens, but the lead actors, the grimly straight-faced approach, and some truly clever moments of scares and special effects make Devil’s Due worth checking out – provided you don’t hate “found footage” and you’re fine with scary stories you’ve heard before.


Scott Weinberg