This is why Judge Gordon Sullivan had a vasectomy.
True love can't escape pure evil.
We have two conflicting narratives about pregnancy. On one hand, it's the most perfectly natural thing in the world. Just about every one of my married friends has been asked "when are you having a baby" within mere moments of tying the proverbial knot. It's just one of those things you do, like breathing, and if you don't you're weird (just ask anyone who doesn't plan to have kids). On the other hand, every pregnancy and every baby is a miracle, the most special thing in the world. This contradiction helps explain why pregnancy horror has been a fascination for decades. The classic is Rosemary's Baby, though other films like It's Alive play on similar fears. To that list we can now add Devil's Due, which puts a found-footage twist on the usual tale. Not a great film by any stretch, it is surprisingly watchable.
Facts of the Case
Zach (Zach Gilford, The Last Stand) and Samantha (Allison Miller, Blood: The Last Vampire) are newlyweds. Because Zach is feeling nostalgic, he decides to take a camera with them everywhere to document their new family. Their first stop is the Dominican Republic, where the pair have a great time, even if they drink a bit too much on the last night. Not long after returning home, they discover Samantha is pregnant despite being on the pill. From here, things get weird. Strange men linger outside their house and Samantha's body doesn't seem to respond well to being pregnant.
To be honest, I don't mind when one film steals from another, especially in the world of genre filmmaking. My problems with the practice usually stem from the fact that too many films take the most superficial or uninteresting aspects of whatever they're biting from. In the case of Devil's Due, it obviously wants to be a 21st century Rosemary's Baby. What it takes from the film is the idea of a spooky diabolical pregnancy, which is far from the most interesting thing about Roman Polanski's thriller. What's most amazing is that we really don't know what's going on. Until the last few minutes, it could all just be a slightly problematic pregnancy underscored by Rosemary's anxiety and paranoia. Devil's Due gives that all away leaving the rest of the film playing catch-up.
To give us a sense of what a demonic pregnancy might look like, Devil's Due goes the found-footage route. The idea isn't a bad one. Paranormal Activity benefitted a bit from the banality of some of its early scenes, and that banality is precisely what makes Rosemary's Baby so compelling. But instead of using found-footage to reinforce the everydayness of Samantha's pregnancy, the film instead suffers from all the usual excesses of the technique. We get misleading bits—Zach sneaks into the house on the eve of the wedding, looking like a creeper—where any sane, rational person would have not only turned the camera off but probably threw it away forever. Even if you can buy into the conceit of a guy carrying a camera everywhere, the sheer number of howlingly-bad moments of "turn off the camera, idiot" are overwhelming.
Despite it all, Devil's Due isn't a terrible film. In fact, it's surprisingly watchable. I'm not a huge fan of found-footage horror to begin with, but I was a solid half hour in before I realized things were kicking off. The film goes down so smoothly and is cut together so well that the pace stays surprisingly quick. Even when I figured out where the narrative was going, I was still able to watch without boredom.
Devil's Due gets points for trying to do something different with the found-footage aspects. The film lacks an explicit framing narrative. There's no title card that tries to tell us how to watch this footage. Instead, we open with a shot of a bloody Zach in a police interview room before we get the proper opening scene. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett try to do something different with motivating the camera. Zach admits he always thought his dad was a dork for carrying a camera around, but now that he's starting a family he understands the impulse. They're not afraid to include shots from camera's other than Zach's, and one of my favorite moments—when Samantha, a vegetarian, finds herself entranced by the meat case at the local supermarket—comes from those shots. It creates some plot holes, sure, but it's a nice touch for this kind of film.
Fox gives Devil's Due (Blu-ray) a solid release. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer does a fine job with the found-footage look. Detail is generally strong, and colors are surprisingly well saturated in a lot of scenes. The overall shakey-cam look doesn't lend itself to a beautiful image, and some of the night scenes look ragged, but all of that comes off as intentional rather than a problem with transfer itself. On the upside, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is pretty amazing. Sound design is a huge part of this film, and not just the jump scares. Dialogue is always clean and clear (despite its rough recording in places), and directionality fills the soundstage with lots of atmosphere.
Extras start with a commentary from Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, alongside producers Chad Villella and Justin Martinez. They're obviously good friends, and much of the track is spent goofing on each other. In between the jokes, though, the quartet share production stories and discuss their inspiration for the film. We then get a couple of featurettes that look at the film's production, a trio of related shorts, 16 minutes of deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and the film's trailer. This release also includes DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film.
Devil's Due gets some credit for trying to stretch the boundaries of the found-footage genre, but in the end it's still just an average pregnancy horror thriller. Fans of either genre might want to give the film a look, but most can skip this one.
Not great, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2014 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.