Premiering as part of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in their “Midnights” section, Devil’s Gate makes it that much more obvious that the festival is still having problems finding quality genre films for this section.
Devil’s Gate is the directorial debut of Clay Staub, the guy who nerds that stay through the end credits know as Zack Snyder’s second unit director on Dawn of the Dead and 300. Staub is also working from a script he wrote with Peter Aperlo, who is another Snyder vet in that he’s written many of the video games based on Snyder’s movies. That should give you some idea of the quality to expect from the movie.
The film opens on a beautiful remote highway in the middle of nowhere with a car racing down the street before it breaks down conveniently near the only house and farm for miles. The place seems abandoned and locked up tight but the driver goes through the gate and tries to find signs of life. Hearing a strange noise out back, he discovers the hard way that the whole place is booby-trapped, as something quite brutal happens to him. It doesn’t really matter what, because it’s completely unrelated to anything else that happens in the movie. Sadly, this sequence is also best part of the entire movie, because it creates a sense of tension not unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
We then cut to the airport of the small town from which the movie got its title, as FBI Agent Daria (Amanda Schull) arrives to investigate a missing mother and son. The missing woman is the wife of the town’s recluse Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), who just so happens to live at that deadly house we saw earlier. We even see said man burying the body of the unfortunate driver from the opening sequence, so we assume to already know what is going on. Not even close.
Daria heads out to Pritchard’s farm along with the town’s deputy Colt (Shawn Ashmore), where Pritchard warns them to leave at gunpoint. Finding his wife’s car in his garage makes them even more suspect, but even stranger is the creature he has captured in a metal cage in his basement. Apparently, Pritchard has captured a “fallen angel” that he claims to be responsible for the disappearance of his wife and young son. We then learn that Devil’s Gate isn’t just the location of the town in which these events take place, but is quite literally a way that creatures like the one in Pritchard’s cellar have used to come to earth to take prisoners. Pritchard hopes to get his wife and son back by keeping one of them hostage.
From the moment Schull’s character arrives, we get some idea of the quality of the writing and acting to expect, and you begin to realize that you’re in for a very bad movie. It only gets worse from there.
Between Milo Ventimiglia’s overacting and spouting lots of religious babble, and the weaker performances of the other players, it’s hard to find anything very cool in Devil’s Gate’s high-concept premise, which is reminiscent of the long-forgotten but equally bad 2010 thriller, Legion. That’s similarly about a group of people holed up in a location fighting off “angels” (which are probably meant to be aliens).
Apparently, Jonathan Frakes came out of retirement from doing movies to make his first film appearance since 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, basically playing a nothing role as the town’s sheriff. He appears for a dull scene in the beginning and then returning for no reason at the very end.
That’s not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, because Staub does have potential as a director, given the right material, e.g. a script he hasn’t co-written himself. The film generally looks very good with top-notch cinematography and production design, particularly in creating Pritchard’s farm where most of the movie takes place.
Things continue to get even more ridiculous, leading into a third act that’s absolutely bonkers, and really, there’s no turning back from there, especially when we get an extended final sequence trying to set-up a potential sequel. God forbid that ever happen.
Devil’s Gate premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has yet to find distribution.