Movie Review: DEVIL’S GATE (2017)

When a local North Dakota woman and her son go missing, the husband is the main suspect. An outside FBI agent teams up with a small town cop to try and crack the case in the small town of Devil’s Gate, and hence, the title of our film.

I don’t want to spoil the plot twist of the movie, although, I promise if you’ve seen a horror movie before, you’ll see it coming from a mile away. The film follows no nonsense Special Agent Daria Francis, played by Amanda Schull, and her assigned partner Colt Salter, the always affable Shawn Ashmore, who are involved in a missing persons case in a very small poor farm community in the plains of North Dakota. When Francis and Salter get everything but confirmation that the husband is a reason for concern, Jackson Pritchard played by Milo Ventimiglia, they head out to his property to question him. From there, things get weird. Some classic genre tropes start hitting right and left, cell phones bricked out and car batteries dying, and the Pritchard farmhouse has a padlocked door to the basement and traps surrounding the place. Things certainly aren’t right, that’s for sure.

Although it may have the best of intentions, nothing quite sticks with the film. The story is fine enough, although it’s something we have seen in a multitude of mediums, and oft told much better than this. A lot of different themes are looked at, fanatical religiousness and redeption, but none of these really lead anywhere. Sure, they’re touched upon, and even have some follow up but almost no resolution is ever really decided upon. Francis and Pritchard both have a solid amount of backstory but you’ll end up wondering, “does it really matter?”

(L-R): Bridget Regan, Shawn Ashmore, Amanda Schull in DEVIL’S GATE

Worst of all is that outside of Ashmore, the acting is tonally whacky. It’s not bad, at all, Schull and Ventimiglia are both talented actors and that’s obvious. Ventimiglia, in particular, chews scenery in a mighty fashion and overacts his little heart out. Schull, on the other hand, can come off as very robotic. It’s a decision that was made but it’s not fitting of the arc of her character. Ashmore is his likable self though and plays the “aw shucks” local policeman warmly, and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”‘s Jonathan Frakes has a pleasant cameo as the sheriff.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about DEVIL’S GATE is how much they telegraph along the way. Some neat ideas are presented but you’ll see them coming from so far away that by the time it actually comes to fruition you end up rolling your eyes rather than appreciating the story. Director Clay Staub does a fine job at actually directing, the movie looks great and is shot well, but his double duty as screenwriter leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll spoil only one thing, some creatures do exist, and for an IFC independent flick, they’re pretty cool looking, If you’re a die hard fan of horror, you can do a lot worse than DEVIL’S GATE, but it’s not going to offer anything unique, instead just a retelling of a dozen other movies in the same vein with a slick production and sound quality.

DEVIL’S GATE is now available to watch in select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms in the U.S. from IFC Midnight

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