Even if Rob Zombie hadn’t changed the game for Antichrist movies with last year’s Lords of Salem, Devil’s Due would still come across cheap and fraudulent. Like other entries in the increasingly-pointless “found footage” subgenre, the movie puts on the pretense of home videos of a newlywed couple Zach and Samantha (TV actors Zach Gilford and Allison Miller) who honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, and afterwards discover they have a baby on the way–which turns out to be Satanic in nature. Unlike Zombie’s film, which charted a range of femininity in its depiction of paganism, Satanism, and witchcraft, Devil’s Due shrugs women off in favor of superficial “dude” horror.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett substitute mood or theme with a hodgepodge of horror cliches and Paranormal Activity jump scares. Despite focusing primarily on camera-mugging Zach, the duo somehow miss every opportunity to explore any paternalist fears: even when he discovers the baby was conceived by the Devil, he shows none of the antipathy or reluctance found in Larry Cohen’s killer-baby classic It’s Alive. Nor do the directors address Zach’s insistence on making every scene about him and his feelings–even as Samantha breaks down physically and mentally (going from vegan to devouring raw meat in a supermarket), he’s compelled to record it with mealy-mouthed justifications like, “It’s for the baby.” Later, he’s passive-aggressive when Samantha and a friend walk into a partially remodeled baby room (bonus points: it’s Samantha’s former office, which he mocked her for having in a previous scene). If anything, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett treat Zach’s possessiveness and gutter-sniping as noble and endearing, the total opposite of Lords of Salem‘s dismissal of male saviors (which were at best misguided, at worst oppressive, either way another form of evil). It’s the same behavior as Men’s Rights Advocates (MRAs) whining about articles discussing sexual harassment. And the duo couldn’t be less interested in Samantha, reducing Allison Miller to creeping plot device designed to scream, screech, or stand in the center of effects-driven carnage; she lacks the agency and curiosity of Lords of Salem‘s Sheri Moon Zombie or Rosemary’s Baby‘s Mia Farrow.
With no internal struggle or consideration, Devil’s Due focuses all its terror on external threats, manifested in cult minions who stalk and spy on the couple. Most of them are black and Hispanic men, the only woman a creepy fortune teller stereotype (the entire honeymoon sequence plays on racist fears). The directors often crib shots from Halloween, but lack John Carpenter’s rhythmic sense of timing and suspense (and chalk up Jamie Lee Curtis as another lead actress who takes control). They miss how Carpenter made the mundane terrifying, as Devil’s Due‘s evil is constant, exotic Other invading the suburbs (by the end, even Samantha behaves more like “them” than “us”), an ugly perpetuation of mainstream media’s fascination of White Women in Danger.
Furthermore, their camcorder artifice puts up a barrier to audiences–a constant reminder of how fake it all is–which robs any scene of immediacy. Questions hang over the production: why is the footage (which includes an overcooked shot of a ritual with supernatural flare) never looked at until the plot demands it, why none of it is ever brought to police, or why Zach hides all his fears from Samantha? Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are too busy fawning over Zach’s pass-agg chivalry (doomed through no fault of his own, as an epilogue makes plain) to answer such questions.
Their only play is to fall back on more gimmicks: special effects shots of hellfire, telekinetic destruction (three teens appearing solely as cannon fodder), or body horror (a baby sneak peak) get thrown in willy-nilly. Whatever can ride on the Paranormal Activity method of throwing objects at the camera for theme park thrills. These attempts at water-cooler moments are as silly as they are cynical, plundering the depths of horror movies for a surface appeal to MRAs.