Arriving like the satanic offspring of Rosemary’s Baby and Paranormal Activity comes Devil’s Due, a found-footage film with a diabolical body horror twist. Prenatal Activity, perhaps?
All-American young couple Zach (Zach Gilford) and Sam (Allison Miller) enjoy the perfect white wedding before embarking on a sun-drenched honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. Shortly after the newlyweds return from their holiday, Sam discovers that she’s fallen unexpectedly pregnant, and as the bump in her belly grows, her husband begins to suspect that the fruit of Sam’s womb might have a distinctly unholy origin.
There’s the seed of a great idea in Devil’s Due, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (part of the horror filmmaking team collectively known as Radio Silence, who created the Halloween segment of the horror anthology feature, V/H/S).
The first half of the story is as much about the upheaval and uncertainty that surrounds pregnancy as the coming baby itself, from the pressures of unexpectedly having to put careers on hold to the more primal fears of physical change and potential complications in childbirth.
Gilford and Miller make for an engaging and natural leading couple, and the initial build-up of suspense is well handled – the requisite found-footage jump-scares notwithstanding. But both the title and the opening slab of text – an apocalyptic passage from the New Testament – make the nature of what’s growing in Sam’s womb plain, and Devil’s Due fails to inject many surprises along the way.
By now, we’re all used to the trappings of the found-footage movie, and Devil’s Due makes only the most cursory attempts to explain who’s recording what and why; initially, Zach tells us that he’s capturing the events for posterity, but before long, the movie’s cutting to supermarket CCTV cameras, and later, to cameras that theoretically shouldn’t exist at all.
In its defence, Devil’s Due comes up with a relatively original explanation for the cameras rigged up around the couple’s house, but in this instance, the found-footage format has the curious effect of deadening the impact of the scares rather than heightening them.
Now, this could be because your humble writer has become inured to the trappings of the grainy-camera format, but it’s equally likely that the film simply fails to catch its audience off guard often enough to make an impact. The directors pull just about every found-footage trick out of the bag in the attempt to evoke a sense of fear – there are handheld cameras bathing the screen with green-hued night vision, cameras that literally fly in the face of the rules of physics, and ominous, fixed cameras where things loom in and out of a static frame. Yet the insistence in using portentous rumbles and little glitches of electrical interference merely signpost the incoming scares, while the familiar beat of the film’s rhythm makes it too predictable to be truly effective.
The reliance on tried-and-trusted Paranormal Activity-style shocks is all the more disappointing when they’re compared to the sequences that are more original – there are routine hospital appointments which hint at ominous future events, and sudden and blackly funny cravings in supermarket meat aisles, which are all extremely effective. There’s a sense that the filmmakers have really enjoyed mining the common experiences parents share during pregnancy, and perhaps a hint of the peculiarly male sense of helplessness as their loved one’s body morphs and shifts as the baby within them grows. Had Devil’s Due concentrated more on scenes such as these, it could have grown into something more than a by-the-numbers genre flick with flashes of originality.
As it is, Devil’s Due is a found-footage horror that is pregnant with potential, yet in the final analysis, ultimately fails to deliver.
Devil’s Due is out now in UK cinemas.
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