JANUARY 16, 2014
Had Devil's Due been shot traditionally, it probably would be pretty good. It's got a pair of likable leads, a fairly fast pace, and a "modern Rosemary's Baby" flair that is refreshing from all the haunted house movies that we've been getting lately. It'd be the sort of movie you watch, more or less enjoy, and forget about until it pops up on cable, prompting you to say "Oh yeah, this was pretty good" and watch a few minutes before remembering you have an Xbox. But alas, they had to go and make it a goddamn found footage movie, and that's where the movie all but completely falls apart.
The problems start as soon as the FOX logo fades from screen, as we're treated to a bloody Zach (Matt Saracen, né Zach Gilford) fumbling with his wedding ring while sitting in a police interrogation room. The date tells us it's March 30th, and he tells us "I didn't kill her". So we know his wife is dead, and then when they ask what happened, they go back just a little over 9 months, which tells us that whatever happened, there's a 99.999999% chance it happened on the night their child was born. So we're already way too far ahead: we haven't even met his wife but we know she's dead, and we also know that she'll make it to the end of her pregnancy. But I held out hope that there would be a twist to the proceedings, like in Memoirs of an Invisible Man where Nick/Chevy is telling his story to us but catches up to the present with another 20 minutes or so to go, letting us know that maybe he DOESN'T have a pre-seen happy ending.
Well, there isn't. Instead, the movie just plays out exactly as the bookend suggests, without a single justification for essentially spoiling the movie before it even begins. No twist, no further context to what we saw, nothing. Hell they even once ask him "Tell us what REALLY happened!", threatening a Moebius strip of a movie where we just see the same damn thing over and over. Similarly, there's no real justification for the use of a camera - the bad guys steal the tapes (at one point literally from under Zach's nose, not sure how that one worked), so there's no in-movie explanation for how WE'RE seeing any of it, and I guess we just have to assume that the bad guys got a hold of the 4-5 other cameras that were filming one of the movie's big scare scenes (the priest bleeding during a mass that you saw in all the trailers), or else his innocence could be proven fairly easily.
So we just have to put up with the usual found footage cliches for 90 minutes, just because it's the cool thing to do nowadays I guess. We know nothing major will happen until the due date, so we settle for mostly weak scares - the baby REALLY kicking, a guy watching the house, Samantha lashing out in her sleep, etc - until the big day arrives and shit can finally hit the fan. To be fair this is no different than most found footage movies, but that's exactly the problem: we've seen all of this before. At least without the bookend we could wonder if either parent would survive - it'd be kind of ballsy (and relatively shocking) to kill Gilford off at the halfway point and let someone else pick up the camera, but alas, the movie is on rails 90% of the time, and those few inspired moments (such as when a group of kids stumble upon Samantha eating a deer in the woods) aren't quite enough to make up for following the found footage template so closely.
The one saving grace is Ms. Miller, who is not only VERY photogenic but also effortlessly natural, the latter being a must for this sort of thing. I've only seen her in 1-2 other things, and was smitten with her in those as well, but at no point did I think about her other characters - she truly made Samantha feel like a real person (can't say the same for Gilford; whenever he got upset or angry all I could hear/see was Matt Saracen). The plot dictates that she spends most of the 2nd half either half asleep or in silent "possessed" mode, but for the first 45 minutes or so, she makes it more believable than even the ones starring complete strangers. I've said before that casting recognizable actors in these things is a detriment, but if they could deliver performances like this, I'd never think twice about it.
She's also able to overcome the painfully bad exposition her character has to spout. We are told at least three times in the first 20 minutes that Samantha's past is a question mark: her parents died when she was born and she grew up in a foster home (she even tells Zach this information, as if he didn't know by then). Since they kept hammering it home you'd think it would have a payoff, but no - the fact that she is chosen by this cult to birth the antichrist seems to be random dumb luck, not some predetermined fate like in End of Days. I guess if I was being charitable I could describe this as misdirection, but if that was their intent - why do it so clunkily? I mean she actually says to her fiance (and they've been together for years) something like "I wish I had home movies, but my parents were gone as soon as I was born", as if he wasn't already aware of that. It'd be a bad line in any movie, but it's exponentially more face-palming when it's presented under the guise of "reality".
Oh, and not for nothing, but for those who don't follow me on social media - my own wife is pregnant right now, and thus I am going through some of the same things Zach is (such as unintentionally annoying his baby mama with his excitement and worry). It's rare I see a horror film I can identify with in any meaningful way, so when I see one that's focused around something I'm not only going through (minus the satanic cult and supernatural powers), but that's also SCARING ME in real life... it's almost unforgivable that it can't get under my skin or even provide any real anxiety. I got a standard jolt or two from well designed jump scares, but I got that much from Paranormal Activity 4. This is better than that (most movies are), but it's still a huge disappointment that it failed to connect on this level - it should have been a given.
Ultimately, the main issue I had with the movie (besides the idiotic wraparounds) was that it actually had a talented filmmaking team behind it. The collective known as Radio Silence, who made one of the best parts of the first V/H/S (the Halloween one at the end), makes their feature debut here, and while there is some of that short's inspired lunacy (particularly in the climax, where Zach has a GoPro attached to his shirt and is thus free to be more active), it's depressing how often they stoop to tired found footage gags. When the evil cult dudes show up and install 15 cameras in their house I groaned, because I knew it would lead to lame Paranormal Activity-style gags, and sure enough - before long we're watching multiple angles on a single scene. If you can't stick to your premise (and if they have so many cameras, why are the members also following our heroes around at all times and standing outside their house?), then maybe just film the movie traditionally and use surveillance footage when it actually lends itself to that style? One of the film's few inspired bits isn't even one of the characters' cameras - it's grocery store surveillance of Samantha (a vegetarian) eating raw meat and disgusting the fellow shoppers. Along with the deer scene, that means the best parts of this POV movie aren't from the POV of its two main characters. Something's broken. It's not a disaster by any means, but I can't help but feel let down that it's not even the best found footage horror movie playing right now.
What say you?