DEVIL’S GATE: Admirable Pieces, But Short Of A Complete Picture
Devil's Gate frustratingly flirts with greatness- however, director Clay Staub's genre mash-up is too uneven to sustain the entirety of its running time.
In the fictional North Dakota town of Devil’s Gate, aptly named given the circumstances of the plot, the film begins with a nod to classic horror movies. On a remote road a car breaks down and the man finds his way to a booby trapped and seemingly secluded house, reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite the boards on the windows and the threatening feel, he proceeds to look for help.
When he hears a noise, he looks through a basement window. Inside we find Milo Ventimiglia, screaming at an unknown inhabitant within a metal cage. It is a mysterious beginning, and unfortunately, this doesn’t endure.
A Promising Idea
In Devil’s Gate Ventimiglia plays Jackson Pritchard, suspect number one in the case of his missing wife Maria (Bridget Regan) and child (Spencer Drever).
FBI special agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull) arrives to investigate, met at the airport by deputy Conrad ‘Colt’ Salter (Shawn Ashmore). It is apparent from the very beginning that her presence isn’t desired, when the sheriff (Jonathan Frakes) doesn’t give her a warm welcome. Pritchard went to school with Colt, he’s part of the community, and thus should be left alone.
Of course, Agent Francis doesn’t comply and after speaking with Maria’s sister, Colt and she find their way to the farmhouse. Her character is still reeling from a previous case that had an ill-fated end. This redemption regrettably doesn’t add depth to her character, instead becoming contrived drivel. Maria’s car is in the barn when she had supposedly left and there is a lock on the basement door.
It’s clear that Pritchard has a secret, he’s strange and volatile, pulling a gun on Agent Francis and eventually landing himself in cuffs. He’s keeping a prisoner in his basement, but it isn’t his family, nor is it human. Pritchard describes it as a demon, for which he’s captured to trade for his loved ones. None of it seems plausible to the police, despite the creature looking obviously other-worldly. The being is covered in a gel like coating, with large deformed heads.
What happens next and what transpires over the course of the next 24 hours is unexpected. A storm, unlike anything they have seen, begins above the farm. Their vehicle dies and the three are forced back into the home, left to rely on one another. It is difficult to dive into the rest of the story without sharing some of its surprises, though the fact that it does manage to provide some and stave off boredom effectively, is worth noting.
The group tries to survive the night, while we’re intermittently provided with answers. Pritchard’s wife manages to resurface, we’re introduced to more of the creatures, and there is also a history on the farm (and within Pritchard’s family) which turns out to be influential.
A (Mostly) Engaging Middle
Ventimiglia, who recently has been known for his role in television’s This is Us, takes another stab at the weird with Devil’s Gate. His intense performance stands out as we see his character shift from abusive domestic partner to protective father with the reveal of his motives. His interactions with the officers make for some interesting dynamics. Ashmore is energetic, itching to be significant, and one can admire his eagerness. Schull seemed a little out of her element here, with a character that was a combination of other strong female detectives that we’ve witnessed in TV and film. This is not her best.
Clay Staub directs in his feature film debut, also co-writing the script with Peter Aperlo. His previous work as second unit director on films like 300 and Dawn of the Dead, give us insight that he has experience with well-conceived projects, but it doesn’t quite compute here. Devil’s Gate succeeds visually, but contends with dialogue that feels forced. It is a good central story that gets reduced to its baser parts.
The practical and special effects are impressive (apart from the storm, which doesn’t fit here.) Staub efficiently creates a bleak, doom-filled locale and Miroslaw Baszak’s cinematography matches his vision. While it is a horror there aren’t copious amounts of gore, instead relying on suspense that is carefully delivered.
Conclusion: Devil’s Gate
The last scene of the film gives us a twist, suited for a sequel. With the 94-minute run-time, which somehow still seemed too long, it had me wondering: is it necessary?
What’s frustrating is how Devil’s Gate just grazes greatness in a couple areas, missing its mark. Truly the biggest flaw is the script, barely sustaining the intrigue, while distracting us with poorly written exchanges. Devil’s Gate fuses genres, beginning as a horror merging into a police procedural, keeping its thriller roots, before rounding out as a science-fiction story. This mash-up isn’t necessarily a hindrance, but it does occasionally lose its focus throughout the transitions.
The characters are seemingly one-note. There is a creative core that gets lost in the shuffle, with some plot-twists that deserve to be expanded upon. Every time you ride a high in this film you most definitely hit a low, and this discrepancy will lose some viewers along the way. While it manages to withdraw itself from serious doldrum, Devil’s Gate’s novelty eventually wears off. As a fan of sci-fi and horror it is disappointing when things don’t quite click and the parts for success are here, they just aren’t adding up.
Did you enjoy it? What was your favorite/least favorite part? Let us know in the comments below!
Devil’s Gate originally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival April of 2017. It was released on demand January 5th.
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