Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pregnancy Scares

Year: 2014
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Cast: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Alright, all you people complaining about how Devil's Due is a haphazard remake of Rosemary's Baby can stop balking now. It's clearly a haphazard remake of Paranormal Activity 2.

It's not even February yet and we're already into our second found footage release of 2014. Devil's Due, which will go down in history as the god-fearing meat between the bread of the two anemic Paranormal Activity movies they're throwing at us this year, was helmed by the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, the team behind "10/31/98," easily the best vignette in the 2012 found footage anthology V/H/S.

That vignette was largely forgettable (which is, ironically, why it stands out - every other part of the film was memorably atrocious), but was redeemed by a gonzo practical effects-filled ending that was predictable and unshocking but fun enough to avoid leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Clearly Radio Silence didn't want to mess with success and changed their formula not one iota for this found footage "whoops, the devil's in me" thriller.

This is what happens when you have sex without a condom - you get pregnant. Then die.

Devil's Due opens with a creepy shot of a stalker filming a sixteen-year-old girl and her friends through her living room window. When the friends leave, he sneaks up the trellis and into her bedroom, scaring her as she comes out of the shower. It turns out that the stalker is her fianc√© coming to surprise her before the wedding and she's not actually a teenager at all, thus providing the first and only shocking twist in the entire film.

Sam (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) are madly in love - and Zach wants to use his new video camera to record all the stupid dumb moments of their wedding week that he never wants to forget. It's actually quite sweet. Unfortunately, from what we see of the tape, he records about seven seconds worth of footage a day, including the wedding and the first half of the honeymoon.

Once the takes get longer, you know something's going down and the couple's honeymoon in beautiful Santo Domingo is shortly derailed by a mysterious cabdriver (Roger Payano) taking them on a detour to an underground party (you'd think that the "hold on, let me unbolt these steel doors and take you into an underground catacomb in a foreign land" part would have turned them off, but darn are those young lovers intrepid). 

This might look like a mere wedding, but it's actually a fierce gauntlet of warriors.

The camera apparently turns itself on and off for several minutes and we capture glimpses of a mysterious cult ritual being performed on an unconscious Sam. Gosh, I wonder what could be happening?

Spoiler alert: She's pregnant. With the Antichrist.

It's really all just so much boilerplate, pulled evenly from the Found Footage and Unimmaculate Conception genres. There's secret cult symbols, creepy watchers, pregnancy complications, mysterious happenings, and plot holes galore. Although there are far fewer holes than in most movies of its ilk, Devil's Due still manages to be unraveled by "the police don't believe Zach's story even though he captured it all on tape and apparently forgot to show them" and "how could a college student and a recent graduate afford this house?"

He pays with kisses.

The movie's biggest flaw is its absolutely poisonous pacing. When the audience has seen it all before, that gives filmmakers a chance to subvert expectations or at least deliver what they want in an expedited manner, skipping over some of the more routine aspects of the genre. 

But Devil's Due insists that we watch an endless series of scenes of the couple's happy/blissfully unaware activities inconsistently punctuated by brief bursts of "ooh creepy" that aren't terribly composed, but simply aren't interesting enough for the massive amount of limp plot they're expected to drag along with them.

The good thing is that Gilford and Miller have a surprisingly sweet and unforced chemistry that renders them absolutely believable as young newlyweds. The acting is of a par rarely seen in found footage movies (largely because the producers chose actual actors instead of unknowns) and their little tics and tiny interactions make the roles absolutely fleshed out and lived in.

This is of massively powerful importance, because without these actors, there would be no reason to care about what the film is doing at all. As it stands, the characters are charmingly portrayed by likable actors with easy chemistry (somehow Zach's character isn't a douche - a welcome departure from a horror genre staple) and is largely enjoyable even if it's a not particularly scary horror flick.

Their conversations about kale are more fascinating than the cult ritual scenes. I'm being serious.

There's a few shock moments that land, like Father Thomas (Sam Anderson) ruining Zach's sister's first communion by leaking a veritable geyser of blood and the leadup to the finale, but the bulk of the horror in the film all exists in the ethereal realm of potential energy. There's a lot of moments that could be scary that mysteriously aren't. 

The most memorable of which is that when the cult sets up secret surveillance cameras inside the house (a bothersome detail considering that the compiled footage is supposedly from three entirely disparate groups who all have good reason to hide and protect it - who is "finding" these tapes and editing them together?), one camera is hung directly above the stairwell, peering down.

I told Sergio I would eat my hat if that shot wasn't used for some cool falling scene.

I can feel the brim poking my small intestine.

Let's ignore that too-vivid imagery by staring at these lovely fellows for ten seconds.

It's all predictable from the very first scene (in fact, it's predictable from the opening five seconds of the trailer), but it's certainly not the worst January horror movie ever released. It's mostly pleasant, which is more than I can say of the tripe that's being released in theaters lately.

My biggest problem with Devil's Due is this. Why this story again? Is there anything more compelling to say about the birth of the Antichrist? These films always end more or less immediately with its emergence from the womb (Not a spoiler. Come on.), but wouldn't it be way more interesting to see the aftermath?

Not that I'm asking for a Devil's Due 2, but wouldn't it be nice to have a film with stakes like "the end of the world as we know it" to actually depict the end of the world as we know it?

I'm just saying. When you think about it, the travails of one attractive couple don't quite compare.

But hey. At least it's not Texas Chainsaw 3D.

TL;DR: Devil's Due is never anything but boilerplate, but committed leading performances keep it at a high ebb despite bland scare sequences.
Rating: 5/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Although I enjoyed it, I'm gonna go with a firm no on this one.
Word Count: 1193

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