A lackluster movie that gets more wrong than right with its supernatural premise.
Genre lovers may imagine a confluence of horror, mystery and the supernatural as an ideal watch, but in the wrong hands, it can be a convoluted mess that fails to do justice to any of its genre influences. Co-writer and director Clay Staub may not necessarily be the wrong hands, but his efforts behind the camera and in conjunction with cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak can’t save his debut feature, Devil’s Gate, from being a lackluster movie that gets more wrong than right with its supernatural premise.
Opening with the horrific death of a lone highway driver, Devil’s Gate tries to appeal to fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and gory ends. This mindless, ambiguously accidental killing, however, occurs in front of an ominous ramshackle roadside farmhouse whose yard is riddled with traps, the property of the reclusive Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia). Staub jumpstarts his narrative by introducing us to FBI Special Agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull), having arrived in this rural town to investigate Jackson’s missing wife, Maria (Bridget Regan), and son, Jonah (Spencer Drever). The crazed recluse, however, is Daria’s number one suspect, not only because of the state of his home—the ideal location for a torture room—but also because he rejects any investigation into his family’s disappearance (his sister-in-law was the one who ultimately filed the missing persons report), even trying to deny her entrance to his house.
Staub and co-writer Peter Aperlo provide mounting evidence against Jackson, making the audience feel like they’re in the know, simply waiting for Daria and Devil’s Gate deputy Colt (Shawn Ashmore) to discover the horrific truth. We witness Jackson burying the driver in his backyard and watch as the investigation of his home reveals his wife’s car hidden in the garage. But this is all a front for the movie’s true premise. In Jackson’s dank basement, Daria and Colt find a caged creature that looks an awful lot like an alien. Jackson, in his manic shouting, calls it a “fallen angel.” Oh boy. Explaining that he’s keeping it hostage until the safe return of his wife and son doesn’t help matters.
Certainly, kudos are due to Staub and Aperlo for trying to find a way to insert aliens into a murder/missing persons mystery, but, unsurprisingly, the result is laughable rather than genre-bending. A freak thunderstorm-vortex drops Maria from the sky, and finally we get to see someone flat-out tell Jackson he’s insane. Her anger can’t manage to be consistent, though. This entire disappearance seems to have been the result of Jackson refusing to take Jonah to a doctor and instead summoning an alien demon to heal him.
Staub wants the alien reveals in Devil’s Gate to be big. The trouble is that he struggles to balance surprise with narrative structure. The dodgy script itself therefore takes on the bulk of the much-required exposition; unfortunately, its faults are magnified by hollow acting. Ventimiglia maintains his overacted, stony seriousness, while everyone else hones in on shock and disbelief.
While Staub aimed higher, Devil’s Gate hits the mark for original SyFy movie (that’s a check on random appearance by Jonathan Frakes and a cast comprised of former sci-fi TV actors) and doesn’t pull itself out of that middling genre hole. It digs itself deeper and deeper into this dubious premise, even going hard on a world domination scheme in the finale that sets up a hopeful sequel. If Devil’s Gate had been more self-deprecating, perhaps it might have stood a chance of becoming cult fun. Instead, its self-seriousness opens the floodgates for ridicule.