Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Writer: Lindsay Devlin
Producer: John Davis
Stars: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Roger Payano, Vanessa Ray, Bill Martin Williams, Geraldine Singer
A newlywed couple comes to discover that an unexpected pregnancy may be more than it seems.
It’s not automatic that any hellspawn pregnancy horror cannot escape endless comparisons to “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s just that in the case of “Devil’s Due,” it is difficult to conceive of a pitch meeting where the studio didn’t ask, “how is this any different than Rosemary’s Baby?” and the filmmakers weren’t caught with the only possible response of, “well this one is shot as found footage.”
“Devil’s Due” is a prime example of a film that does not need to be “found footage” and it assuredly would have been a better movie without forcibly cramming every scene into the format. It is as though “Devil’s Due” feared it could not transcend the “Rosemary’s Baby” association on content alone so it threw up a persistent first-person perspective to mask the scent, yet it still has to answer for the similarities anyway.
In an interview on The Bitter Script Reader blog, “Devil’s Due” co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin of the Radio Silence creative team offers that his movie “doesn’t pretend to be footage that anyone has found or compiled, it’s simply a story told through cameras that exist in the world.” Bettinelli-Olpin adds that “audiences are way too smart to have the ‘this is real’ FF wool pulled over their eyes anymore” as an explanation for why “Devil’s Due” intentionally disregards having answers to the usual questions of why are the characters always filming and where did all of this footage come from? His notions make sense in theory for the filmmakers, but not in practice for the film’s viewers.
Unless a movie opens on a disclaimer stating as much, it cannot be presented as “found footage” without considering an audience’s expectations for it following the “rules” of the format. While it is true that audiences know in their conscious minds that “found footage” is not real, if the movie pulls them in and suspension of disbelief takes over the way it should, the unconscious mind will allow the format to frame the story in a way that makes it feel authentic. That is the entire point of “found footage” in the first place. To feel more real. If the filmmakers are not taking advantage of the unique presentation value the format offers for creating a believable false reality, then what is the benefit of using “found footage?”
That is a micro-synopsis of a macro-problem that “Devil’s Due” has. It considers its ideas as individual stings instead of as an effective total package. The movie collects some frightening creeps and memorable moments, but it is always focused more on what works as something hip for a given circumstance without first vetting how everything plays as a cohesive whole.
Without being too much of a spoiler, a solid example of this is the ending. Devil’s Due’s epilogue scene uses a typical horror movie gag to keep the story open ended and to have the audience leave on an “evil is still out there” note of dread. It works well in concept as a postscript, but it fails to fit with the main storyline. New Testament scholars dispute the possible plurality of the term, but for the sake of argument, why would a satanic cult need two antichrists?
One should be enough in the story of a newlywed couple suddenly preparing for their first child. Zach Gilford has a long road ahead of him in shaking his familiarity as Matt Saracen from “Friday Night Lights,” but he remarkably melts into a likeable Everyman role even with his recognizable presence. Allison Miller has all the cute charm necessary to complete the couple as a believably matched pair that is easy to accept and easy to root for. Before the movie even begins, the title alone should be enough to summarize where things go from there regarding a pregnancy that is more than the parents-to-be were expecting.
And where it goes is to familiar territory of a replaced obstetrician, cravings for raw meat, and unfamiliar strangers taking sudden interest in the prospective mother’s well-being. All that is missing is a necklace made with tannis root.
Truthfully, it isn’t all shades of Mia Farrow and Roman Polanski homage. Many scares are of the surprise variety a la barking dog, slamming door, and sudden lunge at the camera. But there are also several well-crafted stagings that include an unexpected event at Lamaze class and one really choice use of the handheld camera when a teenager is telekinetically thrown through the air.
Once again though, the trouble is that certain pieces are constructed to be cool in the moment, but the “found footage” frame ends up detracting from the better ideas the movie had for its story. Shoehorning scenes into surveillance cameras is a distraction, and nagging questions about how all of the video magically manifested continually punch “Devil’s Due” back to the floor every time it tries standing. The biggest question of all is how much more could the film have accomplished had it not tried so hard to put a square peg in a round hole?
Review Score: 65