Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. It’s incredibly hard to sustain a found footage feature, especially a studio one where there’s more money at stake and there might not be very much faith that the audience at large “gets it.” These days, if you’re going the POV route, the best thing you can do is keep the amount of times the characters reference the camera to a bare minimum. There are moments where I think Devil’s Due undercuts itself and trips up a bit when verbalizing the motivations behind the camera use. At times I even found myself wishing the film wasn’t found footage because I cared enough about what was going on to not want that narrative flow interrupted.
The good news is that I did indeed care that much. Devil’s Due, written by Lindsey Devlin and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Radio Silence (a four-piece collective whose other two members Justin Martinez and Chad Villella serve as producers on the film), is an involving and ultimately brutal horror film. In it, Samantha and Zach McCall (Allison Miller and Zach Gilford) are newlyweds that return home from their honeymoon unexpectedly pregnant and pretty soon things get… complicated. Rosemary’s Baby complicated (though you’ll find that Due has some key differences that help set it apart from Polanski’s vision of maternity).
It’s a relief to discover that Miller and Gilford are both sympathetic leads. At first I felt that they were a bit too broadly drawn, suffering from POV enabled bland white people syndrome, but as Devil’s Due bears into its second act the characters develop a nice specificity that becomes a crucial asset to the film. Not only are you invested in their well being, you’re able to read Miller’s body language to such an extent that you can’t help but empathize with the amount of physical and mental stress she’s under. Samantha, when not emboldened by vengeful superhuman rage, is being chipped away at – almost tortured to death by a pregnancy she’s not even sure she wanted in the first place.
As the pregnancy progresses, the sense of dread escalates. The audience is well aware of what’s going on before the characters are, which lends the film a nice “slow-motion car crash” aspect. It’s not if the inevitable will happen, it’s how. And it isn’t just a litany of torturous medical procedures, Samantha begins to display an impressive (and unconscious) capacity to commit evil acts in the name of protecting her unborn child. While the recent glut of studio found footage films are usually treading water at this point in their structure, waiting to unleash the final jump scare, Devil’s Due is carefully ramping up for a real conclusion.
By the time the film reaches the 3rd act, all of the slow burn stuff has cemented nicely and the stage is set not only for some truly suspenseful moments, but also a good deal of bloodshed. You may have first heard of Radio Silence by watching their “10-31-98” segment in V/H/S. That sense of anarchy is still present here and the sh*t still hits the fan. But you may be a bit surprised (pleasantly so, in my case) by how dark they’re willing to get. Studio found footage movies tend to feel PG-13 or wimp out altogether when it comes to their climax. Not Devil’s Due. It works itself up into a nice, bloody frenzy that should satisfy hardcore horror fans and might even shock the causal filmgoer.