One of the central appeals of the now-ubiquitous found footage horror subgenre – or so I thought – was that the film we were watching had been salvaged from a crime scene, and was edited together by an enterprising filmmaker who was presenting the footage to us as a documentary of lost events. Remember when The Blair Witch Project became a hit, and there were rumors that the film was indeed real, and that the film was assembled from abandoned film canisters and/or VHS tapes found in the woods?
That element of the found footage genre – y'know, that the footage was actually found – is now completely absent, as evidenced in a film like Matt Bettinelli-Olpin's and Tyler Gillet's Devil's Due. The shaky-cam, low-watt filmmaking is now less an indicator of the would-be snuff film aesthetic that was once a highlight of these movies, and has been reduced to mere affect, style, and an easily mocked formula. In Devil's Due, perspective switches rapidly from the camcorder-happy protagonist, occasional security camera footage, and even numerous shots from mysterious hidden cameras insides the protagonists home (hidden cameras placed by… who could it be??). In such a case, you, as a viewer, can only begin asking the most inappropriate questions about who found all this footage, and why they are assembling it for us.
It's hard to talk about Devil's Due without mentioning Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones that was released in theaters just two weeks previous. They are both found-footage movies that deal with ancient cults that mark pregnant women, and who are perhaps trying to birth some sort of demon. I did appreciate that Marked Ones tried to shift found footage's usual setting (of posh bourgeois homes populated by bland Caucasians) into the dingy apartments of Oxnard, CA, but Devil's Due is most assuredly the better film, perhaps by mere dint of its many resemblances to Rosemary's Baby.
Devil's Due, while another predictable retread, is – I am pleased to report – actually effective as a cheap drive-in style boo-gotcha thrill ride. Happy couple Samantha and Zach (Allison Miller and Zach Gilford), barely out of college, get married, go on a honeymoon, encounter a mysterious Mexican cab driver (Roger Payano), and experience something that their camera only barely manages to capture. Soon thereafter, Samantha learns she is pregnant. Since we in the audience have seen movies before, we instantly know that she has been impregnated with the Antichrist. It's not long before Samantha begins having intense bouts of violent anger, their priest (Sam Anderson) begins having distressing health problems, and Zach begins finding mysterious Satanic runes etched into their house.
I don't demand much from found footage movies; it's hard to expect much of anything, now that this form has been so played out over the course of the last six years or so. Character, plot, and even originality are of secondary concern. All I demand is a few good jump scares, a feeling of general unease, and a willingness by the filmmakers to go for some pseudo-mondo shock value. Devil's Due has all of those things. It may be interchangeable with some of its peers, but it's spooky and likeable and better put-together than most of them.
Also, the flick is rated R, making for lots of nice gooey gore effects. A good horror film doesn't need to be gory and violent to be scary, of course, but when you're hunkering down for a movie that's more thrill ride than film, then gore certainly helps.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.