Blu-ray Review: Devil's Due

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Devil’s Due, now available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox, is a box office stillbirth from January of this year. Co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (part of the filmmaking partnership Radio Silence), it’s Rosemary’s Baby for the found-footage generation. Despite support from no less than Eli Roth, this 89-minute feature is bereft of originality or inspiration. In fact, even though plagued by diminishing returns and growing audience apathy, every single installment of the Paranormal Activities series (including the oft-despised fourth film) is miles beyond Devil’s Due in terms of entertainment value.

The “plot” is a lengthy excuse to justify the existence of the finale; ten concluding minutes that do manage to sustain a creepy atmosphere. Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) are newlyweds honeymooning in the Dominican Republic. It’s established early that Zach wants to videotape everything in their life. After a friendly cab driver escorts them to a hip nightspot the couple indulges in a night of drunken partying, little of which they will recall. Not long after they return home and settle into married life, Samantha is shocked to discover she’s pregnant. All manner of weird phenomenon begins to occur, including Samantha exhibiting mysterious bruises and waking in the middle of the night to assault poor, hapless Zach. Of course, the family dog growls menacingly at her. Clearly something evil is brewing.

Devils Due wedding (380x253).jpgThe found-footage subgenre rarely works, partly because it’s simply implausible that anyone would keep the camera on while being pursued by sinister Satanists. But the main problem is that the approach fairly well obliterates the craft of filmmaking. Dialogue carries the forced “naturalism” of improv, with actors spouting inanities rather than purposefully-written lines. Shaky, handheld cinematography—executed by whichever cast member is holding the camera at a given time—does away with all sense of composition. Essentially, Devil’s Due opens with 75 minutes of meandering, faux-home movie nonsense before we finally get some horror content (by which point it isn’t all that hard to have figured out where everything was heading anyway).

As for the Blu-ray presentation, the variety of HD cameras (including static security cam footage, again a cliché of found-footage flicks) utilized were not intended to offer the world’s best image. While most of it looks far better than real home movies, the intent here was to make it look “homemade.” The footage looks as good as can be expected, considering the mix of generally well-lighted scenes with night vision footage that was filmed as the camera was deliberately on the fritz. Much more impressive is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which uses the surround channels to chilling effect during all of the supernatural scenes. Static and distortion is occasionally heard when cameras are being dropped or bumped around, so such imperfections are entirely intentional.

Devils Due feat (380x252).jpgThere’s a fair amount of bonus material, including an audio commentary by the Radio Silence team: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella, and Justin Martinez. One of them asks at the beginning, “Why are you watching a Blu-ray commentary? Why don’t you go spend time with your family?” It’s a joke, I think, but honestly not a terrible suggestion. Truth be told, their generally jokey comments are often more entertaining than any of the dialogue being spoken in the movie. There’s also a generous selection of deleted scenes and a several short featurettes. The primary one, “Radio Silence: A Hell of a Team” (12 minutes), offers some background on the filmmakers. The package also includes a standard DVD and UltraViolet digital copy.

If Devil’s Due isn’t the nadir of the found-footage horror subgenre, it’s certainly one of the worst to be released by a major studio. It’s difficult to see what Fox saw in this, other than a bottom-scraping attempt at cashing in on the Paranormal Activity craze. Of course, based on the gross of the fifth P.A. entry, that craze has long since ended. Devil’s Due will do nothing to revive it.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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