So, it’s January, and you know what that means — “found footage” horror is back.
Seriously, just when you think this cinematic trend has breathed its last gasp, it’s back — usually during the post-holiday period, when studios are eager to dump off material that they think is going to play to a limited (at best) audience. And then something funny happens — one of these “hand-held horrors, ” sometimes even a pretty lousy one at that, ends up ruling the roost at the box office for a week or two (The Devil Inside, anyone?), easily recouping its meager production costs, and the Hollywood suits decide to green-light a few more similar productions figuring that, hey, there’s life in this old horse yet.
And so there seems to be. But you do have to wonder — again! — if this persistent sub-genre has finally run its course, now that we’ve had found-footage zombie flicks, found-footage monster flicks, found-footage exorcism flicks, found-footage ghost flicks, and, in the case of the movie we’re here to discuss today, Devil’s Due, found footage Antichrist flicks.
Arriving as this movie did hot on the heels of Paranormal Activity : The Marked Ones, my initial thought was that this co-directed effort from Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who also collaborated on a less-than-stellar segment in the less-than-stellar horror anthology V/H/S) looked like another spin-off from the PA franchise, by way of Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby, and while that’s generally not too far off the mark, it also doesn’t mean this isn’t actually a pretty good film. In point of fact, it is — even if it doesn’t sound like it could, or perhaps even should, be.
Lisa Marie’s nice little write-up on these digital “pages” a week or so back got me sufficiently intrigued to go out and see this thing, and I have to say I’m glad that I did, for while its premise — not to mention its stylistic trappings — are miles away from being original, it was at the very least a deftly-handled, well-constructed, reasonably-well-acted affair that, while utterly predictable, still offered enough of a unique take on its subject matter to seem modestly refreshing and “new.”
Even though it’s not. But hey, cinema relies on at least temporary suspension of disbelief, right?
The set-up is as basic as they come (and as you’d probably expect) : mysterious orphan girl Samantha (Allison Miller) grows up and marries semi-annoying yuppie scumbag Zach (Zach Gilford), they honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, a night of debauchery and excess in a mysterious underground club ends with, we find out later, her getting pregnant, and said pregnancy is beset by weird health complications, mysterious super-powers being bestowed upon the expectant mother, strangers watching their house (one of whom bears an uncanny resemblance to the cab driver who escorted them to their night-to-remember-that-they-don’t-remember in the DR), and whaddya know? A few dead deer feasts, mysterious home invasions, and psychic attacks on priests later, Samantha’s all set to give birth to Satan’s own flesh n’ blood.
On a purely personal level, I have to confess that Antichrist stories usually fall pretty flat with me since one usually needs to believe in Christ first in order to believe in his evil counterpart — since I don’t, then, I’m kind of hobbled when it comes to buying into the whole central premise here, but what the heck? Devil’s Due is paced so as not to give even viewers like myself too much time to dwell on the details, and hey, at least their “let’s record every moment of our lives for posterity” is a better pretext for all the “home movie” footage we’re getting here than some of the limp set-ups we’ve been served by other entries in this admittedly over-crowded field.
In the “minus” column, our intrepid young (I’m assuming, at any rate) directors do come a bit too close to over-playing their hand at the end — they needn’t go nearly as OTT in the effects department as they do in order to drive home their climax — but on the whole, and against all odds, their finished product by and large actually works. And on a cold January afternoon, that’s enough for me.
Devil’s Due may not be a new horror classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does go some way towards showing that a “hand-held horror” movie can still be effective — provided, of course, that it’s in the right hands.