Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
Director: Kurtis M. Spieler
Writer: Kurtis M. Spieler
Producer: Kurtis M. Spieler, Nicholas Papazoglou
Stars: Bryan Manley Davis, Chris Viemeister, David Alexander, Kristen Seavey, Jon Gregory, Lauren Sowa, Kurtis M. Spieler, Anne-Marie Mueschke
One year later, paranormal investigators return to the site of a haunted well where a young woman mysteriously disappeared.
December ended with me vowing via Facebook to be more selective about films I choose to review, specifically those of the DTV indie variety. Resolving to spend my movie watching time more productively, I half-jokingly added, “life is too short to spend it on another ‘found footage’ paranormal asylum movie shot on an iPhone.”
January began with me worrying I had already kicked that good intention to the curb by choosing to cover “The Devil’s Well.” While not shot on an iPhone, I don’t think so anyway, “The Devil’s Well” is “another found footage” flick featuring paranormal researchers investigating a haunted building. Through gritted teeth I prepared to confess my immediately failed New Year’s commitment like a shamed fat man whose fresh gym membership started collecting dust before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Surprisingly, “The Devil’s Well” turned out to be not nearly as amateurishly awful as I’d prematurely feared, leaving my resolution relatively intact, at least for the time being.
To be clear, “The Devil’s Well” isn’t scary, original, or particularly compelling. But it also isn’t overly careless, lazy, or without redeemable conceptual merit. Putting it another way, “The Devil’s Well” underwhelms as a basic microbudget mockumentary, and I can’t actually recommend it. But I can commend the filmmakers for putting in honest effort to deliver the best formulaic “found footage” horror movie they could, even if the end result is dully redundant.
Previously titled “The Unexplained Disappearance of Karla Marks,” “The Devil’s Well” tells the tale of, uh, the unexplained disappearance of Karla Marks. As a paranormal investigator, Karla traveled with her husband Bryan to a supposed supernatural hotspot in rural Connecticut rumored to hide a portal to Hell. Left alone when Bryan went to retrieve fresh camera batteries (sigh), Karla mysteriously vanished, leaving family, friends, and authorities with a number of unanswered questions.
“The Devil’s Well” presents the first part of its plot in mockumentary style using talking head interviews. Acting isn’t entirely convincing in these segments, but the script cribs competently from familiar “Dateline NBC” sound bite staples for grieving relatives, law enforcement, an attorney, etc. Realistic writing thusly buoys believability when performances dip, though I’d say for a cast of unknown names, they generally do a good enough job all around.
The taller hurdle to be jumped has to do with how much of this news magazine fluff we have to wade through before getting to the “found footage.” Clips of cousins describing Karla’s personality or detailing her marriage bear some relevance for setting the background and developing characters. But dry material like this doesn’t do much to engage an attention span.
Padding problems continue when the film flips to its latter half, which chronicles a “one year later” follow-up where Bryan returns to the scene of the crime with a colleague’s quintet of paranormal “professionals.” Playing Devil’s Advocate, only so much can be done when a stationary hole in the ground constitutes the marquee attraction. To that end, stretching time with local resident interviews and the usual equipment setup montage makes some sense. It’s just that there’s a minimal amount of interest an audience can devote to the photographing of inconsequential graffiti or other pointless inserts amounting to nothing in the long run. “The Devil’s Well” exhausts that patience early.
Balancing boredom a bit are several side conversations. A skeptic’s subplot involves how he doesn’t trust Bryan, with another team member preparing to take matters into his own hands if it turns out they are being played. There’s even some logic in one character wondering out loud why a portal to Hell would be a well in the ground anyway, since Hell isn’t actually inside the Earth. While none of this qualifies as fascinating, at least an attempt at interplay exists to accompany repetitive cement wall corridor crawling. If nothing else, this may be the most rational group of fictional investigators who have ever featured in a “found footage” film.
After mounting a mostly respectable attempt at constructing the appearance of an authentic documentary, “The Devil’s Well” disappointingly blows it by throwing away the first-person format for a preposterously staged climax. I’m splitting my review score down the middle because I still appreciate what writer/director Kurtis M. Spieler and his cast/crew set out to do. But if the ending were better, there’s an outside chance my thumb might lean slightly upward. Unfortunately, the takeaway impression leaves things at an indifferent “meh.”
Some variation of “but” appears in every paragraph above. I’m coincidentally writing this on a night when someone I follow on Twitter reposted this “Catwoman”-related Onion headline: “Movie Praised For Not Being As Bad As It Could Have Been.” I acknowledge the irony in expressing similar sentiments regarding “The Devil’s Well.”
At the same time, different considerations apply to homebrew horror movies made for a dime. Like too many of its peers to count, “The Devil’s Well” could have simply drawn out the supernatural spelunking with a smaller troupe of actors and nabbed the exact same distribution deal. Instead, the film took time to concoct a newscast clip, several sit-down interviews, and so on to lend a look and a hook to its take on well-trod tropes. The final product may ultimately land in the same dust bin of forgettable “found footage,” but “The Devil’s Well” can lay claim to being better produced than the average haunted building investigation indie.
Review Score: 50