New independent Canada/U.S. co-production Devil’s Gate (AKA Abduction as its worldwide English title outside the United States) is a film that will strongly appeal to fans of classic science fiction/horror hybrids. This gripping chiller is filled with surprises and well-executed misdirections, and sports a solid cast with a wide range of genre-fare experience, and fantastic creature effects.
FBI Special Agent Darla Francis (Amanda Schull, whose many credits include the 12 Monkeys television series) requests to work on a missing persons case in the rural town of Devil’s Gate, North Dakota. She suspects that religious farmer Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia of The Whispers TV series) may have something to do with the disappearance of his wife Maria (Bridget Regan of the series Agent Carter and The Last Ship) and their young son Jonah (Spencer Drever of the Fargo TV series). Assisted by Deputy Conrad “Colt” Salter (Shawn Ashmore, who played Bobby/Iceman in several of the X-Men films and whose other credits include the TV series The Following), she goes against the demands of local head lawman Sheriff Gruenwell (Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) and investigates Pritchard’s farm.
Viewers are introduced to that eerie piece of property at the beginning of the film. A man’s (Adam Hurtig of Curse of Chucky) car breaks down on the lonely country road near the farm, and he seeks help there. The farmhouse exterior and surrounding area recall the set design of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and considering how the driver meets his untimely demise, it would be no surprise if Pritchard was indeed behind his family’s disappearance.
Before Francis and Salter arrive at the house, viewers see that Pritchard has someone or something locked in a basement cage; Pritchard insists that it is a demon. Francis investigates the room by herself and is terrified by what she finds. Things only get worse from there, as storm clouds gather and equipment such as cars and cell phones suddenly stop working, stranding the trio inside and around the house as what had previously passed for reality for these three characters is shattered.
Besides the experienced cast, Devil’s Gate’s crew members come with solid genre-fare pedigrees, as well. Director and co-writer Clay Staub previously served as a second unit director for Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead [2004 version], 300, Man of Steel, and Justice League) and Matthijs van Heijningen (The Thing [2011 version]). Though the budget for Devil’s Gate is far less than for those films, the film makes up for this with solid storytelling, wonderful visual flair, and a crackerjack cast. Co-writer Peter Aperlo’s credentials include writing the screenplays for the video games Watchmen: The End is Nigh and 300: March to Glory.
Devil’s Gate blends different genres to great effect. It starts out with an original take on classic opening horror movie deaths, and then takes a turn into police procedural territory. I won’t spoil any more after that than what I have already said is creature feature material, but the filmmakers offer plenty of surprises on this cinematic white-knuckle ride. Staub proves himself a confident, talented first-time helmer, as he does a splendid job balancing the different styles on display and ratcheting up the tension all the while.
Staub and Aperlo have created intriguing characters to go with their suspenseful story. Francis is a serious professional trying to put behind her a well-intentioned move that led to the loss of a life. She still believes in following her gut, even though local boy Salter can’t believe his former schoolmate Pritchard would be capable of killing his family.
The special effects, visual effects, set design, and makeup departments all turn in top-notch work. Javier Botet (whose long list of creature feature work includes the original 2007 version of [REC], as well as The Conjuring 2 and this year’s Hostile) gives another startling monster performance. Miroslaw Baszak’s cinematography is incredible, which comes as no surprise considering his previous work on such fare as George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, House at the End of the Street, Pontypool, and The Strain television series. Keefus Ciancia’s (As Above, So Below) score adds to the sinister proceedings, as does some hair-raising sound design.
Devil’s Gate screened at FrightFest, which ran August 24–28 in London, U.K.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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