SEPTEMBER 7, 2014
There's a moment in Devoured that positively broke my heart, likely due to my recent entry into fatherhood. Our heroine Lourdes finds a birthday card that had been left behind in the restaurant where she works (as a maid, though we are shown she has cooking skill), and I assumed she just meant to bring it to a lost and found or something when she put it into her pocket. But no, later we see her crossing out the personalized message that was written in it and making it out to her son, who is back in Mexico, living with her mother while she tries to make ends meet in NY. I already feel guilty that I can't afford a house for my family, so the notion of being so poor that I couldn't even afford to buy him his own birthday card just killed me.
Indeed, the movie works more as a sad drama than a horror film. It doesn't take too much effort to figure out why Lourdes keeps seeing Carnival of Souls-like apparitions in her apartment and at the restaurant (the only two locations in the movie, pretty much), and there are a few too many phone calls where we don't see the other person on the line, sort of giving away the mystery by the process of elimination. It's a movie that obviously ISN'T TELLING US SOMETHING, but the story is so slight (and somewhat repetitive) that any halfway astute viewer can probably at least figure out the bulk of the mystery. Strange, director Greg Olliver makes it even more obvious with a prologue that starts at the end of the story, something that should just be hinting at what's to come but actually more or less cements the outcome by around the halfway point, when we've seen enough to figure it out. Without that prologue it might have been a bit more of a surprise; I'm baffled why they included it unless they just had to pad the runtime for contractual reasons or something (we even see a good chunk of the scene play out at the end the same way we did before, even though one or two shots would have sufficed to remind us where we were).
But, again, my mind is a bit more primed to notice the tricks such movies pull, thanks to 6 years of HMAD-ing. So hopefully the majority of viewers won't get tipped off in this peculiar way and let the surprises work as intended (and, I should note that I only correctly assumed part of the reveal - some of it was still a minor shock), allowing full enjoyment of this drama/horror blend. It's a tough sub-genre to pull off; horror films aren't exactly known for the deep characterization that a drama requires, and Olliver (and writer Marc Landau) double down on the difficulty by implementing a story that requires obscuring some key information about our heroine. Throughout the movie we see glimpses of her spending time with her son - it's unclear if these are flashbacks or dreams, and we also have to wonder why she doesn't seem all that fazed about the apparitions sometimes - is this a recurring problem, or a new development? As the movie is low on dialogue (she spends many scenes alone) and slightly repetitious by design (we want to understand how soul-crushing her life is as she struggles to raise money for her family) we get more time to think about these things than we might normally, which might be why I was able to determine the twist so early on (that plus, again, I'm hardwired to spot certain things that I can't really explain without spoiling it! Though I will stress she's not a ghost).
As for the scares, they're pretty stock (ghost shows up! Now he's gone!) but there's one that seems inspired by Audition that was pretty nifty, and the question of whether or not she's just seeing things or if they're really there lends the movie some added tension whenever someone else shows up. There's a cop (or firefighter? I forget now) who she strikes up a friendship with after accidentally spilling coffee on him (a meet-cute in a horror film!), and he often shows up just after a scare scene - will she tell him why she's so scared, or keep it to herself so she doesn't look crazy? That keeps us on our toes, as do the myriad number of things we KNOW have deeper meaning (like that back closet, or the guy who seems to follow her into the kitchen after hours) that you won't be able to detect even if you figure out the main thing. The pieces are all put in place at once at the end (with an accompanying Saw-style "let's look at this stuff again now that we have new context" montage); I wish they were spread out a bit more, but suffice to say you shouldn't have any questions by the end. And you'll be sad, so bonus!
And that's pretty much it. I always struggle with these reviews; I don't want to tip you off with more info about the plot that might give something away, and the things I like AND dislike also would require me to inadvertently spoil things, which I don't like to do for smaller release films that are just now seeing release. It's not a perfect movie, but I admired what they were trying to do, and they get enough right to warrant my blessing. Marta Milans does a fine job carrying the movie (she's in nearly every frame) and even with the cramped, minimal locations Olliver finds new angles often enough to keep it from being visually stale (though I couldn't quite piece together the layout of the kitchen/freezer - was it behind the restaurant, or down another level?). It's also a "real New York" horror movie, like Larry Fessenden's Habit, showing areas that haven't been depicted over and over in movies while avoiding any obvious landmarks. All in all, worthy of your VOD rental, if mainly to see how long it takes you to figure out its twist... if you can.
What say you?