The best that can be said for “Devil’s Due” is that, unlike so many cheapo off-season horror projects, its makers at least seem to respect the conventions and history of the genre. Taking so many notes from “Rosemary’s Baby” that it may as well count as a remake, the film expends plenty of effort crafting a few memorable freakout setpieces and nailing down the logistics of its found-footage camera placement, yet it offers precious little in the way of real scares or engaging characters, and even less in original ideas. The result could take advantage of the winter B.O. doldrums for a decent opening weekend, though long-term prospects are murky.
Featuring two protagonists who aren’t characters so much as collections of blandly likable little tics, “Devil’s Due” centers on newlyweds Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) as they set off for a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. Zach is an inveterate videographer — as he explains at some length in a sort of meta-expository monologue early on — and with a lapel-mounted “adventure cam,” he and Samantha venture into the Santo Domingo night. After a portentously disastrous visit to a palm reader, the newlyweds end up lost in unfamiliar streets, only to be rescued by a pushy cab driver (Roger Payano) who ferries them to an underground club on the outskirts of town, where they proceed to get blackout drunk.
Waking up with no memory of the night’s conclusion, the couple return home, and Samantha soon discovers she is pregnant. It takes little time for her pregnancy to start heading in directions never imagined by Heidi Murkoff, at which point directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett start to resemble a sort of Roman Polanski cover band, running through all the greatest hits: the raw meat consumption, the peculiar pagan gifts, the traffic mishaps, the ocular abnormalities and the creepy new obstetrician, just to name a few.
The pic does make one significant deviation from Polanski’s formula by switching the perspective from that of the expectant mother to the father, with Zach the one who finally begins to investigate the strange goings-on. In more enterprising hands, this could have potentially been a clever subversion of the sort of “chicks, amirite?” attitudes common on male-driven network sitcoms, imbuing all the most cliched female mood swings with truly sinister attributes. As it is, the shift in p.o.v. merely robs the pic of the deep paranoia that made “Rosemary” so effective. It also means that Samantha effectively disappears as a fully human character a little over midway through, largely depriving the film of its most charismatic actor. (Gilford is watchable enough, but his character is so thinly drawn that we never even learn his profession.)
The plot holes are numerous, but none are more irritating than Zach’s failure to actually watch any of these voluminous homemovies he seems to be shooting at all hours until it’s too late. And while the directors turn up the intensity for an effectively creepy (if overblown and somewhat premature) finale, they fail to build any mounting dread in the lead-up to these fireworks, turning the film into a pastiche of some interesting individual ideas that never cohere into anything truly unsettling.
On a technical level, “Devil’s Due” looks and sounds much better than most found-footage chillers, which, while welcome aesthetically, does rob the pic of a certain verite grittiness. The filmmakers do well, however, to gradually widen the sources of their footage, starting off confined to a first-person, handheld perspective, and picking up closed-circuit feeds and other new views as the plot allows. Louisiana and Dominican locations are well scouted, though the source music choices are occasionally quite bizarre, and the use of a Brenton Wood tune over the end credits may provoke more confusion and skeptical glances than the twist ending that precedes it.