The idea of found-footage horror movies being cinematically sophisticated is totally counterintuitive, and yet “The Devil’s Due” is probably the most visually ambitious entry the subgenre has yet offered. Unfortunately, that’s not a compliment.
Although the film justifies its characters’ constant documentation about as effectively as any of these plausibility-stretchers ever will, the feature-length debut of two thirds of the directorial troupe Radio Silence scrambles to find any excuse to cut to a new angle or shoot traditional coverage while debasing a potentially compelling story with every found-footage cliché in the book.
Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) plays Zach, a newlywed who decides to document every minute of life with his wife Samantha (Allison Miller), starting with their wedding. After a drunken night of partying with locals on their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, Zach and Samantha return home to the normalcy of their regular lives. But after Samantha discovers she’s pregnant, they eagerly prepare for the challenges of parenthood.
Before long, Samantha starts to worry there’s something wrong with the baby after she experiences odd pains – and displays unusual behavior. When they notice strangers watching their home, and a local priest (Sam Anderson) has a bizarre encounter with Samantha, Zach begins to realize something is really wrong – and even if he figures out what that is, it may already be too late.
Generally speaking, I have no problem suspending disbelief in order to enjoy found-footage horror – of course there’s no good reason for them to film all of the time. But “Devil’s Due” distinguishes itself, much to its detriment, by making a huge show of the characters’ reasoning, and then packaging their entirely self-sustaining “home movies” in between recordings of a police interrogation of one of the survivors.
And the fact that the police don’t seem to believe the suspect, despite what is very obviously a mountain of footage evidencing their innocence, suggests that they didn’t find, or see, the material we’re watching. So how exactly can you have a found footage movie, if no one finds it?
Meanwhile, the filmmakers either had no confidence or no patience for the limitations of found-footage movies – which typically involve one camera, or two, maybe, if, say, someone were to give the protagonist a GoPro as a wedding gift. Halfway through the film, no fewer than 15 cameras are installed in Zach and Samantha’s house, effectively eliminating the need altogether for the technical conceit, particularly since the remainder of the film regularly cuts from a variety of angles (and even external cameras) to document what’s happening.
Worse yet, even with an omniscient viewpoint looming over everything, the film still can’t muster any suspense, unless waiting for the inevitability of a one-second jump scare counts. There isn’t a single set piece or scare in the film that hasn’t been done before, multiple times, and better, in one of the “Paranormal” films or their knockoffs.
Suffice it to say casting one of the stars of “Friday Night Lights” in a main role and hiring hugely recognizable character actor Sam Anderson (“Lost,” “WKRP”) further undermines any sense that this is real, much less believable. But ultimately, “Devil’s Due” is so preposterous and numbskulled that their actorly theatricality – by which I mean commitment to making stupid decisions — is all that’s left to hold onto. Because by the time the film comes back around to that bookend interrogation footage, the only thing you can think about is what else you’ve seen them in before – especially since it’s where you will undoubtedly prefer to be.