Team Radio Silence originally started out making viral YouTube videos as little showcases for their directing and special effects skills. They became viral hits, so much so that the team got the chance to showcase in a feature film, the found-footage portmanteau V/H/S. They got the final segment, titled 31/10/98, which was probably the best of the shorts featured. Now the directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet have a full feature film to display their skills to the fullest, in Devil’s Due. While it is a strong feature debut, there are a few story issues that hold it back from being something really special.
Zach (Zach Gilford) and Sam (Allison Miller) are newlyweds having their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. While there they have one night out that neither of them can remember. Soon after returning home it seems that Sam is pregnant, which is a bit of a surprise but they accept the news well. However, as she comes to term, things don’t seem quite right. Women change a lot in pregnancy but what Sam’s going through seems far more extreme than normal, down to some very out of character behaviour. As events soon start affecting friends and family too, and there are signs that someone is watching them, it seems certain that what happened that hazy night will tear this family apart, and worse.
This film earns extra points right off the bat for simply having very likeable main characters. A long time is spent getting to know Sam and Zach at the start and the two leads have really good chemistry together. This helps keeps the stakes very high for the audience, simply because you don’t want anything bad to happen to them. This may seem like a fairly obvious point but it’s actually remarkable how many horror films there are these days that don’t grasp this, giving us pretty shallow cut-out characters rather than the real people found here. The characters also get some good material, as this film plays on a lot of fears and concerns about pregnancy, both from a male and female perspective.
Now, found footage films are ten-a-penny these days, so it’s hard to stand out from the rest. Devil’s Due does a good job of this in several ways. Firstly, it has decent answers to the ‘drop the camera and run’ problem of these films (the question of why the characters are filming these things and not simply running away). This links with the other big thing, it doesn’t just rely on one camera perspective all the way through. One advantage of that is that, in found footage films, the character with the camera often doesn’t get much screen time, since their forever stuck behind it, which is avoided well here.
This one really delivers on the scares though. It wisely decides not to make too big a mystery out of something that should be fairly obvious from a film called Devil‘s Due. Instead, it lets the audience in on a few key things before the main characters, building the suspense as they are unaware for a while of just how bad things are going to get. It also wisely paces itself, starting slow-and-steady but picking things up nicely as the finale approaches. The trouble with the story itself is that it never really does enough to make it anything more than just Rosemary’s Baby for the Paranormal Activity generation. It pretty much ticks all the boxes for a standard demon possession storyline, without many surprises. The ending, also, after that strong a set up is kind of a let down.
Devil’s Due is a good set piece for Radio Silence’s talents. The storyline is not without faults, the biggest one being overfamiliarity, but it does its best to minimise those issues. As a spooky selection of found footage scares, it delivers well, with some better shocks than the last few Paranormal Activity films for a start. Worth the price of admission, here’s hoping it leads to bigger and better things for the directors.