By Sherry Lipp
Fifteen years after The Blair Witch Project, which was a low-budget horror phenomenon that grossed nearly $250 million worldwide on only a $60,000 budget, the found-footage genre is starting to wear thin. At least one of these low-budget horror quickies comes out each year and none have ever come close to reaching the success of Blair Witch. Even the popular Paranormal Activity series is seeing some significantly diminishing returns. While these found-footage films can be a little short on story, the best ones offer some real thrills – with barely-seen movements and mysterious sounds menacing the characters, both in front of and behind the camera. Unfortunately that can’t be said about the 2014 film Devil’s Due, where nothing happens for most of the movie. By the time it does, you don’t really care.
In a kind of Paranormal Activity meets Rosemary’s Baby, a young couple – Sam (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) – finds themselves expecting a child right after they return from their honeymoon. Of course we already know something’s not quite right because they have already showed us that some kind of satanic ritual happened while the couple was passed out drunk at a tiny little nightclub in the Dominican Republic. Knowing this takes away a lot of the suspense in the storytelling.
The found-footage concept gives filmmakers the opportunity to make a movie without telling a complete story. Because we are supposed to be watching people going through their daily activities, everything feels mundane. The dialog and their activities is boring, but that’s all part of the design. It’s supposed to feel ordinary until something extraordinary happens. In this film the extraordinary pretty much doesn’t happen until the last ten minutes of the film, so we are stuck with the ordinary.
In fact this film relies entirely on non-reaction from everyone involved. Sam screams at her young niece for no reason and no one ever brings it up. We’re supposed to believe this terrified little girl goes back to the party and doesn’t say a word to anyone about her aunt’s out-of-character behavior? While at the supermarket, Sam rips open a package of raw meat and begins shoving it into her mouth. Customers avoid her, but that’s it. No cops, not even a store employee comes over to see what’s going on. After shopping for “baby stuff” (what the couple exclaim as they walk towards the store), Sam breaks all the windows of an SUV with her bare hands because the driver nearly backed into her. Again, no cops and no confrontation. Zach doesn’t even seem particularly astounded that his petite wife could perform such a task.
What’s even worse is the footage itself serves absolutely no purpose. We don’t even know whether or not anyone even watches the footage from day to day. If they did, every single question would’ve been solved. Zach, who was obsessed with capturing every moment of the couple’s lives, doesn’t even use the footage to save his own skin when the police finally do come into the picture. In the end it boils down to lazy storytelling.
However, if you are a found footage aficionado and want to check this film out, the Blu-ray offers some nice features including deleted scenes and a commentary from the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, joined by their Radio Silence filmmaking partners Chad Villella and Justin Martinez. The filmmakers themselves even suggest that viewers start the movie about 50 minutes in, effectively skipping all the boring setup. There’s also short making-of featurettes along with a twelve-minute piece about Radio Silence. The Blu-ray also includes a DVD and an UltraViolet digital copy.
The sound and picture are in line with current Blu-ray standards – everything looks and sounds good, considering Devil’s Due is supposed to be a home movie. In some ways everything looks and sounds a little too good. Apparently there was always excellent lighting just about wherever the couple went and whatever mic was available picked up every word anyone ever said. I guess some concessions have to be made in the name of found-footage storytelling; it’s too bad they didn’t tell a better one.
Images: 20th Century Fox