May 4, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Devil's Due

Devil's Due is one the latest found footage horror films to hit theaters (now, home video). Now, I must admit to enjoying it, somewhat. I am not one to write off found footage tales, although I do think they are getting a tad long in the tooth and we could probably do with seeing them a little less often. Still, as shown here, the gimmicky style can still be effectively used and is a valid format that seems perfectly suited to the horror genre, which is why I think it seems to be overused. Could this work in a comedy or a drama? Probably not. It worked for superhero stories with Chronicle, but still it seems the only place where repeated effective use is going to be in horror.

Found footage movies will always suffer from development issues. The style just does not allow for a great deal of development and are almost always back loaded with the scary stuff. This being the case, they will always feel a bit dull until the final act kicks off, Devil's Due is no different. So, while there is a whole bunch of setup, it does not feel like it is going to go anywhere until the final act begins and we start to witness actual spooky material.

With found footage, you have to accept that the characters will always be recording themselves, regardless of the situation. This is part of the reason why found footage horror needs to be freshened up or stepped away from for a while. Think about the earlier examples of found footage, say Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project. Those films were made out of footage meant to be put together as a documentary, this is a legitimate reason. Then you can move onto films like [REC] and Quarantine, these were shot like unedited news report footage. Then there is the early Paranormal Activity outings, these are home security footage, primarily. Now you have later Paranormal Activity entries and Devil's Due where you just have to accept that people are recording stuff.

Do you see the problem here? The reasons for recording keep getting pushed to the back, this saps them of their believability and their legitimacy. If we are to keep getting these I think someone is going to have to think harder about why the stuff is being recorded in the first place.

Another issue that comes up, and is perfectly exemplified by Devil's Due, is the issue of development. I think people are just going to have to realize they are going to be disappointed by these types of movies. They are not designed to satisfy or explain and the style generally does not allow for it. We do not have an omniscient point of view, we can only know what we have been shown, therefore we will never be privy to the information needed to fully understand what happens. Consider it a blessing and a curse and one that writers have to work around. We run the risk of being told stories that all the creative team knows is what is onscreen while others will work out the facts and sprinkle them through what we are allowed to see. Make sense? Basically, it can prove to be a crutch for bad writers or a useful tool allowing writers to mess with the audience. Sadly, I am pretty sure I am not smart enough to tell the difference.

All of this ties into Devil's Due, as it is a tale with an interesting concept that is told in this style which does not afford us the details needed to make an informed guess as to what happens or why. We are forced into the perspective of limited number of characters, in this case the folks the stuff is happening too. This is not a bad thing as we are forced into the unenviable position of not knowing anything, on the flip side, we are left in the hands of idiot characters whose actions often lack real logic.

When the movie ended, it is very easy to be upset by it. I think this is by design. I mean, the footage has to stop somewhere and there is a very good chance that you are not going to be happy where it ends. It just stops. There is no more. You have to be ready to accept this and it is not always easy to do.

Anyway, Devil's Due is not bad, but I think it is showing the gimmick's cracks as getting larger. Pretty soon it is not going to be feasible for a studio to keep churning these things out. We are becoming immune to their tricks. Hopefully, should they continue this path, someone steps in and finds a way to give it a shot of creativity.

I guess you want to know a bit about the movie? It is simple a Satanic cult is looking to bring the devil into our world, but he has to be born by a specific way. This cult is on the lookout for potential vessels and when they do find them, they enact a plan. Newlyweds Zach (Gilford) and Sam (Allison Mller) become targeted by the cult and a pregnancy that initially makes them very happy takes a turn for the sinister.

Seems simple enough and it is generally executed well enough. We are given some hokum about why everything is being recorded and then a lot of nonsense before stuff gets really weird at the end. I was involved the whole time and was curious about what was going on. The scares were mostly effective the action leading up to the climax gets a little crazy.

I liked it, but like I have been saying in this rambling bit of nonsense, the found footage thing is showing its age. I am beginning to question how we got the footage. If it is found footage, it is safe to assume that somebody is showing us, I do not think we are supposed to believe we are seeing it as it happens. Assuming this is true, it begs the question why doesn't Zach show the police the footage? Since he doesn't it could be inferred it was taken, by who? But then, how are we seeing it? Perhaps I am giving it too much thought.

Everything points towards issues with the gimmick as filmmakers try to stay ahead of the curve and direct where the story goes, but losing track of what rules are inherent in the style. It is a good story with an engaging cast that is somewhat short circuited by the gimmick.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1 and is generally decent, although it is far from a great presentation. This is not a movie you would use to demo your home theater. I suspect the decent but lackluster presentation is all because of the found footage style. We would not want to make it look too good, you know. There is an overall softness and lack of shadow detail. Again, it works for the gimmick, but it is not great looking.

The audio track is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and it does a pretty good job of keeping you involved. The dialogue is clear and centered and there is some nice base frequencies used in the creepier elements.

  • Commentary. The track features Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler, Gillett, Chad Villella, and Justin Martinez. It is a rather annoying track. The participants are clearly enjoying themselves, but they come across as annoying. No real need to listen to this.
  • Deleted Scenes. Typical collection of cut bits and pieces.
  • Radio Silence: A Hell of a Team. Profiles of the filmmakers.
  • Director's Photo Album. Behind the scenes photos from the shoot.
  • Ashes to Ash. A little more found footage, probably should have been in the deleted scenes section.
  • The Lost Time.I believe this is from the honeymoon when things got weird and time was lost.
  • Roommate Alien Prank Goes Bad. Unfunny short.
  • Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly. Another not so funny short.
Mildly Recommended.

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