Pros: Sense of ambiguity and mystery; the first half of the film isn’t bad
Cons: Ending is a disappointment; too many cheap thrills, not enough genuine tension
With the ghost story formula of Poltergeist and numerous other films tackled using the first-person perspective in 2007’s Paranormal Activity and even The Exorcist getting the discovered footage/mockumentary treatment in 2015’s The Atticus Institute, why wouldn’t horror film fans expect a found footage variation of Rosemary’s Baby and/or The Omen to pop up at some point? Abandoning any attempt to justify that formatting, 2014’s Devil’s Due presents the story of newlywed couple Zach and Samantha McCall who, after a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, start to suspect that something is very fishy about their subsequent unplanned pregnancy. With shadowy figures and pseudoreligious symbolism appearing all around them, it would appear that Samantha is about to give birth to the antichrist, but husband Zach doesn’t seem willing to write off his unborn child just yet.
Insert John Williams’s Jaws Theme here…
Told by way of any number of handheld and closed-circuit security cameras which seem to capture any and every aspect of the McCall’s everyday life, there’s not so much as a hint of authenticity to this film. I suppose in a way it’s advantageous that filmmakers have decided that the found footage gimmick can be used just because (some) audiences enjoy it: there doesn’t really have to be any effort made to make these films seem believable anymore since no one would in the first place. As such, Devil’s Due writer Lindsay Devlin and co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett can concentrate on telling their story in the best way possible, without any concern for upholding the illusion of the film portraying real events. Unfortunately, the film they’ve delivered becomes ever more goofy as it goes along – in the lousy way these “scary” moments are crafted onscreen, I half expected comic-book style balloon descriptors to intrude, accentuating the film’s action (BOOM! BANG! POW!) but more importantly pointing out exactly how the writer and directors wanted the audience to react (GASP! SHIVER!).
Not quite normal behavior from a pregnant woman…
In dealing with a story like this, it’s almost inevitable that the fear of pregnancy itself is the most frightening notion being dealt with. Devlin’s script might not be the most logical thing in the world, but it does a satisfactory job of capturing the anxiety of the prospective parents. Cast members Allison Miller and Zach Gilford handle this material fairly capably, and there are some genuinely uncomfortable moments in a first half or so that’s much more reliant on subtle, eerie elements and a palpable sense of dread rather than obvious cheap thrills. I could even buy into the obligatory dark ritual which resulted in Sam being impregnated: related to the camera in a protracted, very mysterious manner, I wasn’t sure quite what I was seeing, but it was appropriately spooky and bizarre – even more so when placed alongside joyous images taken during the couple’s honeymoon.
The film has some downright uncomfortable moments early on relating to the fear of pregnancy.
Down the stretch though, Devlin throws any notion of subtlety out the window and revels in the same sort of basic ingredients found in virtually every supernatural-related horror flick – people and objects being tossed around by unknown forces, a group of zombie-like fiends seemingly pulled straight out of John Carpenter’s under-appreciated Prince of Darkness, a priest making desperate exclamations about the end times. It was at this point that Devil’s Due started to lose me…and eventually made the transition into being more funny than scary. It’s been quite a while since I chuckled at a straight horror movie as much as I did at the final third of Devil’s Due. At a certain point, Devlin goes completely overboard in an attempt to give what had been a slow-burner of a creepy movie a wop–bop-a-loo–bop-a-lop–bam–boom conclusion. Making up for lost time in an appeal to the ADHD generation, this loud finale went against everything that had occurred earlier and wound up turning this fairly typical but nonetheless watchable flick into a mostly ludicrous hunk of cheese.
Nicely executed? Sure, but slick visuals can’t make up for a script that runs out of ideas.
As was the case in The Atticus Institute, Devil’s Due suffers from a lack of legitimate tension – the film actually lets the viewer off the hook precisely when one would expect the suspense level to be nearly unbearable. Honestly, the only moment in which I was truly unnerved was during a child’s “hide and go seek” game – this scene had been featured in the advertisements for the film and I was a bit apprehensive awaiting the inevitable jump scare that I was sure would occur very shortly. Imagine my massive disappointment when even this scene didn’t offer up that much of a jolt in the end – the suspense was mostly in my mind. Perhaps that notion suggests the most damning thing about this film: it shows too much to viewer. Movies like The Blair Witch Project, the original Paranormal Activity, and even Jaws for that matter worked as well as they did because they more often than not forced a viewer to imagine the monstrous entity at their center: as has been proven time and again, the human mind is capable of visualizing much more disturbing and unsettling imagery and ideas than what any crack team of special effects artists can create. By simply allowing its more fantastic scenes to play out on screen, Devil’s Due actually becomes less effective as a horror film even though the effects themselves aren’t bad.
Eventually, all the smoke and mirrors in the world can’t save Devil’s Due from seeming like anything other than a run-of-the-mill found footage flick that picks up ideas from various classics of the horror genre and mashes them together into tiresome hodgepodge. The film is capably made, and has some clever (if rather familiar) moments, especially early on. I also rather liked the sense of ambiguity that seeps into the film during certain stretches, although many viewers take a more negative view of events not being explained thoroughly. By the time the story heads into the home stretch however, the fresh ideas have clearly been exhausted and a viewer is left to trudge through a gory but mostly ineffectual and unsatisfying final act. To be honest, Devil’s Due isn’t as truly abysmal as I thought it would be, but it’s hardly something that I’d urge people (even those who enjoy b-grade or found footage horror) to see – if you do enjoy this sort of movie and have an hour and a half to kill, knock yourself out…but don’t expect greatness.
Rest assured – this publicity stunt is much more clever than anything in the film:
6/10: Though relatively bloodless early on, it unleashes a torrent of gore by its conclusion.
7/10: Fairly regular use of profanity, including numerous f-bombs.
1/10: Extremely brief nudity shot from a distance and some mild sexual references.
6/10: A rather ambiguous found footage Omen that has its moments but is ultimately disappointing.
“Children, it is the last hour / and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming / so now many antichrists will come / Therefore we know that it is the last hour…”