Devil’s Gate (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Here is a project with so many familiar ideas, it is near impossible to fit them all in one film and make them work. Written by Peter Aperio and Clay Staub, the latter directing the picture, at least “Devil’s Gate” cannot be accused of taking one shallow concept and stretching it too thin. What begins as story involving a guilt-ridden FBI agent (Amanda Schull) sent to investigate the disappearance of a mother and son (Bridget Regan, Spencer Drever) in the farmlands of North Dakota turns into struggle for humanity’s existence—ambitious but incredibly challenging to pull off without skilled writing.
The work is elevated by attractive practical creature effects—attractive in a sense that rubber suits and the like are appropriately covered in otherworldly mucus, teeth and fangs are menacing, their bony yet tender-looking fingers creepy as they wriggle about. Creatures vary in color, size, and ability. When visual effects are utilized, such as when a pole is used to prod one of the sac-like curiosities, it encourages the viewer to look a little closer. Tension increases as little hairs climb up the rod and begin to pull back collectively. It gives us a chance to gauge the intelligence—or instincts—of this thing we are looking at with morbid curiosity.
If only the dialogue were as polished. Milo Ventimiglia plays the husband and father of the disappeared. As Jackson, who, according to the townspeople, has been increasingly short-tempered and violent during the past few months, Ventimiglia is required to be menacing, almost monstrous as every seemingly insignificant thing may set him off, as shown during the film’s lackadaisical first quarter. But the dialogue he must sell is so cheesy, no effort of raising one’s voice or making it sound more gruff could mask the awful string of words.
Perhaps the better choice would have been to show the character function effectively in silence as we hear terrifying noises in the basement. By showing that these violent noises no longer bothering him, it may provide information about the kind of man he is, particularly his level of focus when something needs to get done. The film’s lack of strength when it comes to character details is not specific to Jackson. Even Special Agent Francis and the local cop tasked to take her around town (Shawn Ashmore) are given too many unnecessary expository dialogue to explain their motivations rather than simply showing or implying them.
Open-minded viewers, especially fans of “The X-Files” who are capable of sitting through the strangest episodes, may find some value in “Devil’s Gate.” I was entertained by it simply from the perspective of visuals—even the more ostentatious ones which I was surprised by given my low tolerance for CGI. While the experience it offers is not particularly horrifying or thrilling, it provides a number of unexpected left turns.