Movie Review: Devil's Due
By Matthew Huntley
January 21, 2014
Ever since The Blair Witch Project, the “found footage” style of filmmaking has become inextricably linked with horror movies. It’s with good reason, I suppose, since the purpose behind the technique is to lend the film a raw, realistic atmosphere, and when something feels more realistic, it often feels scarier.
But after so many examples, from the interminable Paranormal Activity series to The Last Exorcism, the method simply can’t have the same impact it once did, and in the case of Devil’s Due, I’m not convinced this manner of presentation was even necessary. Then again, the entire production doesn’t seem necessary.
A movie like this practically embodies the word “derivative.” It borrows so heavily from other movies, including the ones I already mentioned, that it almost seems deliberate. There’s not one fresh or original bone in its body. And yet, it’s not a train wreck, or even badly made. Perhaps at a different time across the cinematic landscape - say, 15 years ago - Devil’s Due might have been more effective and only comparable to the superior Rosemary’s Baby, at least as far as demonic possession movies go. But now, in 2014, there’s nothing about it that makes it stand out and we quickly grow bored with it.
The story follows a young newlywed couple, Zach (Zach Guilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller), during a horrific experience following their honeymoon to Santo Domingo. On their last night there, they get lost and are picked up by a seemingly friendly cab driver (Roger Payano), who takes them to a secret underground party. Because Zach likes to record everything with his video camera (here’s where the found footage comes into play), we witness everything candidly, even if he and Sam don’t. After they get drunk and pass out, they’re taken to an ominous stone chamber, where religious signs and symbols grace the walls and floor. (It’s not clear who was recording them or holding the camera at this point, but never mind.)
Cut to Zach and Sam’s hotel room the next day and they both have massive hangovers and aren’t exactly sure how they got back. Nevertheless, they return to their quaint suburban home and Sam discovers she’s pregnant, despite her claiming to “take the the pill religiously.”
From here on out, strange and creepy things start to happen. Based on the genre, and because we’re smart enough to know way in advance where the plot is going, we can pretty much check these occurrences off one by one: Sam develops bruises on her body but is unable to explain where they came from; an ultrasound of the baby causes technical glitches on the monitor; Sam, who’s a vegetarian, impulsively tears open a package of ground beef at the grocery store and begins to eat it like a rabid animal; and she experiences sudden nosebleeds and spikes in strength that give her the power to break windows and throw people across the room. There’s also the issue of the creepy guys who watch her from across the street.
Given the movie’s title, not to mention the Bible verse that opens the film - “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come…” 1 John: 2:18 - it’s pretty obvious what, or who, is gestating inside of Sam. But does the movie put any kind of original twist on this premise or offer any new insight into the underlying idea? Not really. It’s all standard horror fodder and the movie dishes out all the usual conventions, such as the family dog suspecting something is awry (somehow dogs are always the first to know); or a priest (Sam Anderson) sensing an evil presence and bleeding out uncontrollably. You get the idea.
If you’ve seen any demonic possession movie before, Devil’s Due will not seem like anything new. But unlike some of its brethren, it’s not particularly scary, thrilling or really all that interesting. For its mere 89 minute runtime, we patiently wait for something gripping or frightening to happen, but because every scene feels like a retread, it never does. The plot rolls out exactly as we expect it to, which makes it something we have to bear instead of enjoy.
I mentioned the movie isn’t badly made, and it isn’t. On a technical level, it’s competently shot and put together, even though we question the narrative purpose behind the found footage approach. Aesthetically, I know what the filmmakers wanted to accomplish, but how did they want us to interpret it from the world of the movie? Did they want us to think someone took all the footage from the various cameras that recorded the events and spliced it together?