Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence are responsible for Devil’s Due, a 2014 found footage horror piece that contends with a good old-fashioned Satanic birth. The screenplay by Lindsay Devlin bears a quarter of a million comparisons with Rosemary’s Baby, while the scrambling cinematography of Justin Martinez makes it feel just like real life.
There is something to the conceit of Devil’s Due that pulls at the heart of much of the found footage genre: the fear of forgetting. The lead characters want to commit as much as they can to the miracle of technology because they’re afraid that committing life’s events to memory will not suffice. There’s something existentially profound about that.
Zach (Zach Gilford) marries Samantha (Allison Miller). They take their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, where Zach’s camera catches everything. A visit to a fortune teller (DeMaris Gordon) freaks them out, but a cab driver (Roger Payano) makes them feel better by whisking them off to a wild party. Something weird happens at the party. Something devilish.
The couple returns home and it turns out Samantha is pregnant, despite being on birth control. They share the news and adjust to the changing circumstances, but something’s off. Samantha starts behaving strangely and develops a host of abilities. She terrorizes a priest (Sam Anderson) and there are odd connections to symbols, the Antichrist and a ritualistic cult.
The first blow struck by Devil’s Due moves from the fear of losing one’s memory to the reality that foreign countries are really scary places for well-off white people. The Dominican Republic is by and large a magical land of indulgence when things go right, but when the locals steer the suburban twosome askew things invariably lead to Satan himself.
Zach and Samantha don’t spend much time looking at the footage until things have progressed to maddening levels, but this isn’t unlikely. After all, most of the footage people record of their daily lives is sent to the junk drawer of history with only intentions to guide it to potential future viewing.
Devil’s Due uses a lot of spliced-together footage. The majority is taken from Zach’s loving lens, but there’s supermarket surveillance footage and other characters have happily provided what they’ve filmed. Bettenelli-Olpin and Gillett have insisted that the film is comprised of “cameras that exist in that world” and that the found footage genre isn’t fooling anyone.
So why use the con at all? The setup is ruinous to the point of distraction. And Bettenelli-Olpin and Gillett go to great lengths to insist on the logic behind the footage, like when hidden cameras showcase certain things or when a parking lot camera is required to check out the tail end of a window-smashing scene.
The gravity of the found footage excuses never lives up to Zach’s existential fears and never dovetails against Samantha’s life-ruining pregnancy. Emotional resonance is left up to the usual suspects, like how the once-close couple starts to draw apart for demonic reasons or how Samantha scares a small child who is naturally also filming something.
There are some amusing scenes, in fairness. Samantha, a vegetarian, eats raw meat in a grocery store. She smashes the hell out of a truck. It’s too bad these scenes don’t land as anything other than digressions, but there is something on the bones. For the most part, though, Devil’s Due is yet another flagrant example of style overtaking substance.