FTP: Devil's Gate (2017)

MARCH 31, 2019


I'll give Devil's Gate this much: I never in a million years could have guessed its final moments from its opening ones, in which a guy's car break down and he is promptly killed by a booby trap on the grounds of an ominous looking farm nearby. This would lead me, you, and anyone else who had ever seen a horror movie before to think they were in some kind of survival horror territory; a mix of Saw and Texas Chainsaw that would pile up the bodies and not have anything else to say or offer, but at least scratch an itch you might have if you were in need of some brainless carnage. However, the plot gets more and more complicated as it goes on, and while I can't spoil the particulars (or even list all of its sub-genres) I can say that at a certain point, the filmmakers switched gears one too many times and lost me.

The farm belongs to Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), who doesn't seem to be too concerned about the dead stranger on his property and also has someone/something chained up in his basement. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Amanda Schull) arrives in this small North Dakotan town to investigate the disappearance of a woman and her son - Pritchard's family, as it turns out. Defying orders from the sheriff to leave him be, she grabs deputy Shawn Ashmore and heads out to the farm, where Pritchard attacks them and force them into cuffing him - at which point things start getting freaky. It's obvious that whatever he has locked up is more of an "I want to protect everyone from this thing" move than a "I'm a crazy man kidnapping innocent people", but that doesn't explain why his family seems to have vanished, so Schull can't fully trust him - only accept that he's not a clear cut villain.

The twists and turns that follow, mostly regarding the nature of what he has in the basement and what he wants to do with it, are hit or miss when it comes to how successful they are. I appreciate that the filmmakers wanted to spin their generic opening into something unexpected, but it's almost like they wanted to keep chasing that high and pulling the wool over our eyes again and again. The problem with that is that it gets hard to really get a firm grasp on the proceedings; it's like getting three serialized movies' worth of information and retcons all at once. One in particular, involving Pritchard's own backstory, comes so out of nowhere (and explained quite awkwardly to boot) that it not only derails most of the rest of the movie, but seemingly renders many of his earlier actions inexplicable as well (which they cover up with a "I didn't realize" kind of hand-waving excuse). It reminded me of that one season of Supernatural where Sam lost his soul in between seasons, but only after we learned that (several episodes in) did he start actually acting soulless, making us wonder why he couldn't keep up the act or why he ever bothered keeping the act in the first place.

But again, at least it was never generic. Milo was clearly embracing the villain/crazy guy kinda role, something he used to get to do often in his earlier career (Gamer!) but not so much these days since he's practically playing God on This is Us (this came out around when Season 2 was kicking off) and scoring other nice guy roles as a result of that show's success. As a fan of it (leave me alone, it's good) I was delighted in seeing him get all bug eyed and holding shotguns on people, something Jack Pearson rarely does (even in Vietnam the dude was all peaceful!). I just can't help but wonder how many middle aged houswives rented this from a Redbox after seeing him on the cover, only to discover it ended up closer to Heroes territory than his current hit. Ironically, an impulse Redbox rental is about all it's good for, and as it's been on disc for almost a year now it's probably not IN those clunky red kiosks anymore, so I'm not sure who this review will be enticing or warning. Oh well.

What say you?


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