It’s nearly impossible to approach Devil’s Due with any sort of excitement, but a fair number of horror fans were at least cautiously optimistic. On one hand, it more or less epitomizes everything that has made genre fans so leery of studio horror in recent years—the found-footage format, the familiar storyline, the relegation to an unflattering January release date just two weeks after Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.
There was a ray of hope, though: Devil’s Due is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two members of Radio Silence, the filmmaking collective behind the best segment of 2012’s uneven found-footage anthology V/H/S. Coupled with an enthusiastic Twitter endorsement from Eli Roth, it was enough to make genre fans agree to give it a shot.
Thanks for making us all look like jerks, Eli Roth.
It’s hard to imagine the sort of Bizarro World where Devil’s Due would be even passably entertaining. Certainly it would be a place where Rosemary’s Baby, or any of the devil-fetus films it inspired, hadn’t happened yet. And since the movie’s best moments simply port over the successful parts of the directors’ V/H/S segment, our target audience should consist entirely of people who haven’t seen that film, either. But wait—if our theory is that Devil’s Due could only be successful in a world without Rosemary’s Baby and V/H/S, it would have no reason a) to exist, and b) for anyone to see it. Oh, what a rabbit hole this is.
Anyway, Devil’s Due is essentially a found-footage remake of Rosemary’s Baby, only the filmmakers have thoughtfully condensed it by removing all the parts that were interesting, or scary, or good. The film opens with a bloodied and handcuffed Zach McCall (Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford) explaining to the police that he did not, in fact, do it. (There’s no third-act twist here; if you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what “it” is, and that Zach is telling the truth.) The rest of the movie is an assemblage of home-video and surveillance-camera footage that recounts Zach’s marriage to Samantha (Allison Miller), their exuberant honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, her impregnation by Satan, and the young couple’s struggle with the demands of demonic pregnancy, which is exactly like regular pregnancy, only worse. Sam eats some raw meat, develops superpowers, and gets really moody. There’s an official Jump-Scare Dog that frequently pops up out of nowhere, and then everyone dies, gets arrested, or goes to Paris to help Satan impregnate some more people for Devil’s Due 2.
And that, I’m sorry to say, is pretty much it. To be fair, there are a number of good scenes, but that number is exactly two: There’s a frightening and disturbing bit involving three unlucky teenagers who stumble upon Samantha as she interacts with a deer family in an upsetting manner, and the climax, though entirely predictable, is pleasingly over-the-top and displays some of the promise the directors showed in V/H/S.
Unfortunately, the good stuff is tacked onto a seemingly interminable soap opera full of horror-movie clichés and bland characters. The performances, especially Gilford’s, are decent, but the characters are stunningly thin, even by found-footage standards. We’re told that Zach is—let me consult my notes—ah, yes, he’s an employee, and Samantha is studying things at a school. Other characters, including a freaked-out priest, an excitable palm reader, and a sneaky OB/GYN, just seem to wander in from other movies.
For the most part, Devil’s Due spends 89 dull minutes smacking its forehead on the low bar set earlier this month by The Marked Ones. There are a few good ideas thrown into the mix; things might have gotten twisty and fun once Zach starts watching all the footage he’s been shooting—he is, you see, being filmed by devil-worshippers as he’s filming his wife—but the found-footage-within-found-footage conceit is quickly dropped in favor of more jump scares and shaky-cam hysterics. To their credit, the filmmakers do seem to care how their movie looks, and scenes are staged and framed carefully, but that ultimately just makes the found-footage gimmick even harder to swallow.
No matter how much you might want to like it, there are no pleasures here, guilty or otherwise.