Dir: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett • Wri: Lindsay Devlin • Pro: John Davis • DOP: Justin Martinez • ED: Rod Dean • DES: Anthony Medina • CAST: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Steffie Grote, Robert Belushi
15A is a cinema rating that drives me to distraction, and without fail delivers mediocre ‘adult-themed’ movies and over-mature children’s flicks. Attaching this ridiculous rating to a horror movie already cements the assumption that a film made to attract not only adults, but adults who can bring their children along, will probably not be that scary.
And so it is with Devil’s Due. Before the screen lit up and then frazzled with the usual signs of found-footage filmmaking (more on that later), there was a general feeling of relaxation in the audience. Nobody, it seemed, was prepared to be terrified, and this despite the social media onslaught of ‘shocking film’ and ‘totally terrifying’ quotes. Apparently this is the scariest movie of the year (a toothless boast for a film released in January), and Eli Roth himself has begged audiences not to pre-judge the film. Roth, who has brought us delightful torture-porn epics and is a self-proclaimed horror expert, has mentioned the movie’s roots in Rosemary’s Baby as being incidental to its inventiveness and creativity – and has emphasised how very, very scary Devil’s Due really is. I saw this movie with only the teaser ads on television to go on, having avoided the twitter accounts and Reddit AMA’s, so Eli Roth’s words can only have meaning to me in retrospect. I can only assume, then, that he is either working for the movie, a liar, or has never seen a truly scary horror film before.
This was one of the least frightening movies I have ever watched, as well as being one of the least inventive. From its ‘found-footage’ camerawork to its reliance on 40 minutes of slow build-up before anticlimactic bumps in the night, it owes an obvious debt of gratitude to Paranormal Activity (now five years old). Dizzying camera angles and shakes; the recording of situations that nobody in their right mind would be recording; ‘gifts’ of lapel cameras; a ridiculous opening conversation to explain why everything must be recorded – it all reminds me of how saturated the genre is with ‘found-footage’ scares. Throw in horror’s typical terror of the unknown, and we have a hackneyed story of a couple honeymooning where satanic rituals happen just off the main street of ‘Someplace Foreign’.
We also can’t pretend to ignore Rosemary’s Baby when discussing the story of a woman who is impregnated by Satan worshippers in order to give birth to the antichrist – this movie relies on our cultural recognition of that trope. Rather than play with the idea, and have the audience as much in the dark as her husband Zach (Zach Gilford), we watch Sam’s (Allison Miller) growing baby-bump knowing full well that the foetus inside is not your average little miracle. The 9 months progress with barking dogs, strange animal deaths, unnatural behaviours, occasional telekinetic powers and an increasingly confused husband who can’t seem to just look at the footage he has recorded. Because we are so ‘in’ on the secret the shocks are not shocking, the jumps are not jumpy, and the inevitable ending is simply boring.
Horror movies are all about release and emotional reaction – you jump in your seat, and laugh at yourself, then anxiously await the next moment when the build-up of tension can be released in screams or shudders. They can offer pure entertainment, tongue-in-cheek darkness, self-awareness or visceral thrills, but that must all be wrapped up in the occasional fright. In the final analysis, Devil’s Due is unoriginal, lazy and – most crucially for a horror movie – just not that scary.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Devil’s Due is released on 17th January 2014