Arriving in theaters on the 17th is Devil’s Due, a story of satanic impregnation through the lens of a newlywed’s video diary. The recently betrothed Samantha (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) come home from their honeymoon unable to remember one of the nights of their trip. When Samantha turns out to be unexpectedly pregnant the couple’s life rapidly descends into a new, dark and sinister direction. The film marks the first feature effort from the creative team Radio Silence, who’s segment “10/31/98” stood out as a fan favorite in the 2012 horror anthology V/H/S.
Last month Collider was invited to the 20th Century Fox lot to get a first look at what Devil’s Due has to offer. Filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella were joined by Fox’s Executive Vice President of Production Steve Asbell to introduce select clips from the film and to answer questions in a Q&A moderated by Eli Roth. They talked about the influence of Rosemary’s Baby, their thoughts on the found footage format, making their first studio film and their advice to aspiring filmmakers. Check out my thoughts on the footage and highlights from the Q&A after the jump.
The last few years have witnessed the explosion of found footage. For years our screens have been awash in shaky POV movies so there is an understandable weariness toward the format at the moment. However, the gentlemen Radio Silence delivered one of the standout segments of V/H/S, demonstrating an undeniable talent for the format, and having recently been lucky enough to catch an advance screening of the Roth produced The Sacrament, an outstanding film shot entirely in POV documentary style, it was with a renewed interest in the subgenre that I went check out the footage from Devil’s Due. The clips presented were strong, tense and effective. We were shown roughly ten clips, which included a cringe-inducing body horror sequence, a surprising effects set piece, and a continuous stream of seriously tense supernatural shit. The premise is undeniably evocative of Rosemary’s Baby, something the filmmakers acknowledge and embrace, so the enjoyment and tension of the film stem from the knowledge of exactly how foreboding every moment is and watching this likeable couple deal with an impossible situation. After screening the footage Radio Silence and Asbell sat down for a Q&A with Roth (while not attached to the film, Roth was impressed by it at a recent screening and wanted to lend his support to the filmmakers).
First up for discussion was the challenge of creating a demon-baby film in the shadow of Rosemary’s Baby. As fans of the seminal film Gillett said they weren’t afraid of going up against a such touchstone of the genre because “there was an opportunity to borrow from it in a smart way and tell a story that had some similarities, but felt more contemporary and accessible…It was a really fun thing to watch Rosemary’s Baby and get borrow things that felt right to update.” Knowing that most of their audience has already seen Rosemary’s Baby, the filmmakers made the clever decision invert the structure and reveal Samantha’s impregnation within the first 15 minutes. By frontloading the film with that knowledge the fun of the movie becomes about the tension of knowing and watching how everything unfolds. Bonus fun fact: A crucifix featured in a hospital scene is a prop from Rosemary’s Baby.
The other obvious difference is the POV format of Devil’s Due and the filmmaker’s have a pretty strong stance on the format: “People don’t hate found footage, they hate bad movies.” According to Gillett they liked the idea of a video diary presentation because it “allows you to be involved in the relationship in a really intimate and almost voyeuristic way.” They also spoke about some of the more difficult aspects of found footage, pinpointing camera justification and soundtrack design as unique challenges of the subgenre. Asbell, who also worked on Chronicle, talked about the studio’s stance on the format saying, “We don’t sit around going ‘What’s our next found footage movie?’ We genuinely don’t do that because in [our]experience, they’re very hard films, very rigorous experiences to make. The more casual and idiosyncratic and serendipitous it seems, it’s actually the result always of some sort of incredible choreography that is the result of the filmmakers.”
Asbell also spoke to how Fox’s experience with Chronicle opened the door for filmmaker’s like Radio Silence and reminded the studio that “great films come from great filmmakers, and the only way to create a template where you can bring new voices into the company was to create movies that weren’t cheap. It wasn’t a matter of looking at risk as much as upside.” As for Radio Silence, they only had good things to say about their first studio film experience saying, “You get a lot of first time filmmaker horror stories where they’re working with a studio and they’re like, ‘They totally steered me away from what I wanted to make and I ended up with something I’m not really proud of.’ In that sense we’re really the exception to the rule. Fox was really down with the experiment from day one.”
On their approach to filmmaking and their advice to aspiring filmmakers Bettinelli-Olpin spoke about the value and freedom of working on the internet saying, “What worked for us was very much just applying ourselves and doing it over and over. And entertaining ourselves, which was kind of always our rule. What do we want to do? What do we like? That’s the joy of being on the internet with no budget, there’s no one telling you yes or no so you can fail over and over and over and no one cares. If it fails who cares? Just get up and you do it again and you keep doing it. We worked every minute of free time for four or five years just shooting every minute of free time. Just figuring out what we were going to shoot next, shooting it, putting it up and then immediately jumping in to the next thing. So it’s really just deciding what you want to say, and what you want to do and just going for it.”
And what do they want audiences to know most of all? That first and foremost they are fans, that their work comes from a place of love for the genre, and that at the bottom of it they’re really just trying to make films that they would want to watch. Personally, I can’t wait to see the full film. It’s clear that the filmmakers have a passion for the genre they’re working in and based on the footage I saw the movie looks like a solid new entry in the satanic cult subgenre. Check it out yourself when Devil’s Due arrives in theaters January 17th.