Devil’s Due

2014_devils due posterThe story of an expectant mother carrying satanic offspring in her viscera first germinated in horror cinema over forty years ago, from Rosemary Woodhouse consuming raw liver, or Damien Thorn’s smile as his nanny reminds him that the birthday celebrations are all for him. Directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who as part of the Radio Silence collective directed the closing segment of V/H/S, have decided that a retelling of the demonic baby is overdue, and have chosen to induce it by embedding it in the modern horror fad of found footage.

2014_devils due 1Newlyweds Zach and Samantha McCall (Zach Gilford and Allison Miller) are spending their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, Zach recording the first days of their new life together in his video diary. On their last night, the taxi driver they have befriended takes them to a private party where after few drinks they lose consciousness, but a spy camera records Samantha being subjected to a mysterious ritual. The next day, the unsuspecting couple wakes up in their room without any recollection of the incident.

Soon after their return home, Samantha discovers that despite using contraceptive measures she is pregnant. Over the coming months, as the baby grows inside Samantha, Zach witnesses an unnatural transformation of his wife, displaying increasing emotional instability, disturbing food cravings and unusual aggression and strength. Becoming increasingly aware that there are strangers following his wife, observing her, Zach begins to suspect that the metamorphosis of Samantha and her pregnancy are being caused by supernatural forces.

2014_devils due 2Unfortunately, prenatal scans indicate that Devil’s Due has nothing common with the psychological horror of Roman Polanski or Richard Donner but is just another failed experiment with shaky camera, providing further evidence that the found footage genre is on its last legs and chasing its own tail. What was once seen as an daring innovation to lend immediacy to horror, a genre which had become as pompously convinced of its invincibility as the unstoppable killers of Elm Street, Haddonfield and Camp Crystal Lake has been downgraded to the justification for a lack of any acting aspirations, talent, script or even moderate ability to handle a camera.

Regardless of the presentation of the footage, any competent film requires certain elements: it must tell a story which has a beginning, middle and end, it must have developed characters and it needs a skilled director who assemble this in a convincing whole. Already the first refuge of the creatively bankrupt, if this subgenre doesn’t reinvent itself soon, building on the strengths the format can offer and raising the minimum standard expected of those involved in all aspects of production, it will become a cinematic dodo.

2014_devils due 4Devil’s Due not only fails to herald such a reinvention but also it breaks the primary rule of found footage, the illusion that the presented video material is real. While there is latitude for invention within the format, encompassing the mockumentary (Trolljegeren), the document movie (The Devil Inside), the student project (The Blair Witch Project, The Dyatlov Pass Incident) or live television broadcast (REC), the creators of Devil’s Due do not even try to justify the multiple sources of their movie in any way.

Further nails of cinematic sin in the rickety coffin are that it utterly fails to scare and is insultingly, painfully predictable; despite the opening Biblical passage foretelling the coming of the antichrist, it takes eighty minutes for the story to arrive where it started. Devil’s Due is nothing more than long stretches of aimless scenes interrupted from time to time by a failed Boo! moment, telegraphed each and every time by specific change in sound and distortions to the picture, the directorial duo having resorted to stealing from Paranormal Activity, a franchise so bereft of inspiration it has repeated itself almost to the point of self-parody.

2014_devils due 5Bookended with scenes of Zach’s interrogation by the police who state that no proof supporting his version of events has been found, no witnesses have been located and none of his recordings recovered despite multiple cameras hidden in the McCalls home by the cultists to observe the development of the pregnancy. The question must be asked, if the film is the police record, how can it include material which hasn’t been found by them? Or if we are watching the footage captured by the cult, including Zach’s recordings which they stole earlier in the movie, how can it include the police interrogation?

These issues could be overlooked if Devil’s Due told a compelling story, but the only screaming to be found is about the absolute lack of originality. The movie brutally carves handfuls from its spiritual parents without any attempts at the basic courtesy of sprinkling some fresh garnish before swallowing them whole and bloody, consuming Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, The Exorcist, even taking visual cues from the doomed crew of the Elizabeth Dane from The Fog, but while those originals were subtle and intelligent, their bastard child is brutal, garish and proud of its wilful stupidity.

Devil’s Due is now on general release

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