Monday, 20 January 2014

Devil's Due

Deviled Egg

Devil's Due
2014 USA
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillet
Playing at UK cinemas now.

You know, I nearly didn’t venture out to see this film because of a) very bad word of mouth and b) the popular perception that it’s a straight remake of Rosemary’s Baby. 

Well, to address the second point first... Get a grip, people! It’s not a straight remake of Rosemary’s Baby. It’s certainly an homage in terms of how most of the story (what there is of it) turns out but, frankly, there have been so many books and movies on this specific subject... the birth of the antichrist... or in this case... an antichrist... that you really can’t go out and say it’s a remake of that specific film. It’s merely part of that same sub-genre of horror that Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, Holocaust 2000 etc all belong to. It doesn’t quite wander into It’s Alive territory but... yeah, I was kinda hoping it would, actually.

To address the first point... the bad word of mouth? It's seriously not a terrible movie. It’s not a particularly good one either and the fact that it’s found footage... well... not even “found” footage... in fact... oh heck, let me get to the negative stuff a little later. First, let me hit you with a few positives.

It’s actually quite scary in places. Not the slow, creeping horror kind of dread I personally prefer, where the cold hand of the supernatural grips you on the shoulder and turns your spine to jelly. More the current “jumpy” kind of horror, which can be fairly effective if executed with the right kind of timing and conviction and certainly, these types of scenes worked perfectly fine here. I know they must have been working pretty well because one of the guys in a group of two thirty-something couples who was sitting next to me was saying “oh no... no .. no ... oh no” and covering his head for support during some of the more intense scenes in the picture. Actually, it truly wasn’t that scary but, I guess maybe if you’ve never seen this kind of stuff before, it may have been. I thought he was going to have a heart attack or something.

The acting was all pretty naturalistic and that’s kind of what I expect from a so-called “found footage” movie. Which serves the story well and since, in this kind of film, acting works better as an invisible art, I would have to say that the performances in this movie... all the performances... were pretty good.

Another positive is the set design. Found footage movies like this can’t set up elaborate shot designs and necessarily reveal certain nuances of emotion with the camera on an actor due to the shackles of the format. That being said, you have to be very expressive with your set design to push concepts through and this was all good here. The “nest” at the end of the movie through which one of the main protagonists is wandering to get answers, is pretty nicely designed and the house in which most of the film is shot is kinda interesting too.

Thus ends the positive things about the movie. Here are my main problems with it... 

The pacing was terrible. It starts of with a quote which leads to an ending which is trying to be a twist ending but which doesn’t succeed (more on that later). It takes too long to get going, considering the timing of the supernatural elements of the film and then, when it does, things just seem to keep coming in a rush. Some sequences worked fine... and most of them, to be honest, were executed with a certain degree of skill. However, the way they were edited into the main thrust of the picture felt ill timed and ultimately, had me thinking way too much about the movie I was watching rather than just pulling me in and letting me watch it.

The other thing which just doesn’t work in this thing is the “found footage” pretension. The footage is taken from multiple sources such as hand held camera, adventure camera, various surveillance systems including major ones set up by the antagonists in the film... so who is, in fact, editing all this together for us to watch other than, you know, the actual film-makers? It makes no sense and there is no text at the start to explain why we are watching this curious mixture of multi-sourced footage and for whom this edit would have been produced. 

And, a point for the writers. If you’re going to make a movie featuring edited together real life footage, and the actual footage goes missing halfway through the movie, then that really only leaves you with two options which make no sense at all. If the footage the character is watching has just disappeared, then we wouldn’t have been able to watch it after the fact either. If, however, as is possibly implied, the antagonistic “devil maker” group who have been watching the main protagonists’ house have taken it, then why would they be editing all this muti-sourced stuff together in the first place? Who the heck is their audience? And, also, if you’re going to do that, why end your presentation with the particular ending you have here? They already know this stuff. 

This is just plain dumb and an insult to the intelligence of pretty much any audience who’s going to spend time with the film. You have to build a modicum of credibility around these kinds of media devices otherwise the internal logic of the film just falls flat on its face... like it does here.

When all is said an done, Devil’s Due is a relatively scary but ultimately unsatisfying take on the satanic anti-christ genre. I can’t really recommend this one to anyone except those audience members who like to study the way the fear button is pushed in the human mind. Most horror movie watchers will probably find themselves having a less than impressive time as far as I can see.  Maybe stick to Rosemary’s Baby after all. 

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