Devil’s Gate

Rating:

HOME ON THE RANGE

Main Cast: Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore

Director: Clay Staub

Today was moving day to my new domicile, Condo Maine, high atop the Nakatomi Plaza building at Century City. I had hoped that Mr. Brad would be completely done with the Ottoman fantasy renovations I ordered to provide a sort of unifying theme to the décor but this Covidian crisis has delayed things so much that the building crew is completely off schedule. Instead of looking like a lush Arabian Nights harem, my new digs more resembles the MGM scene shop with bags of plaster, cans of paint, stray lumber, and the occasional abandoned beer bottle gracing what should be spaces for elegant entertaining. Unfortunately, Holly, my move coordinator, booked all of the trucks at the Reseda U-Haul for today and cannot reschedule. She has left with a small army of unemployed stagehands to pick them up and bring them back to Casa Maine to begin loading my worldly possessions in preparation for their move two miles down the hill.

limo pixabay
I briefly considered this vehicle but it felt rather plain.

I don’t want to be part of the packing process. The last time I personally supervised a move, the crew kept confusing me with craft services and asking me for more donuts. To spare them all the embarrassment of such confusion, I have picked up some of the last remaining discards from my vast wardrobe, placed them in lavender scented garbage bags and had Tom, my new driver place them in the rear of my new special order Prius Limousine. It arrived a rather dull shade of navy blue, so I have had it painted an absolutely fetching periwinkle with cerise trim and reupholstered in white rabbit fur. The traffic in the greater Los Angeles area has become unbearable in the last few years so I felt that it was time to give up driving myself. Indulging in a new mode of transport with chauffeur was in order. We’re taking all my bags of lovely gently used clothing downtown to the tent city to bring a little joy into the lives of people who have been left somewhat bereft by the current economic situation. Most of what I have is awfully feminine but I did find a few suits at the back of the third walk-in closet left over from my Annie Hall phase (I had been cast but was forced to drop out due to a pulled gluteal muscle – Woody was ever so disappointed and had to go with Diane Keaton as the shooting schedule could not be rearranged). They should be suitable for male attire.

As it’s quite a journey from Beverly Hills to downtown, I settled into the back of the limousine, crammed in with my bags of largesse, and turned on my iPad to find a film on Netflix to entertain me for the journey. I hadn’t seen a horror film for a while, so I settled on Devil’s Gate, a low budget Canadian film from 2017 which showed up under my Netflix suggestions. I had never heard of it, but it had a few actors in the cast list whom I have admired in other projects, so I decided to give it a whirl. The limousine bar was well stocked so I helped myself to a dollop of Southern Comfort for some slow sipping to see what the Canadians might have in store for me this time.

Devil’s Gate, like most Canadian films aimed at international distribution, is set in the Northern U.S. – why they feel that North Dakota is more audience friendly than Manitoba or Saskatchewan is beyond me, but anyway, we’re definitely in Coen Brothers territory and the film opens with a terrific shot of a car hot rodding down a deserted stretch of frosty road in pure Fargo territory. When the car inexplicably breaks down, the motorist (Adam Hurtig) heads to the only house in view. Here we move into Texas Chainsaw Massacre land as the house is falling apart and weird things made from various household objects are suspended around the veranda. Needless to say, things do not go well for him. In the meantime, back in town, an FBI agent (Amanda Schull) has arrived at the local sheriff’s office to investigate a missing persons report on a woman and her young son. The sheriff (Jonathan Frakes) is none too pleased to have her poking around and assigns one of his deputies (Shawn Ashmore) to help her out. It turns out that the missing woman is the wife of the inhabitant of spooky little house on the prairie and he is the chief suspect in her disappearance. A visit to the missing woman’s sister (Sarah Constible) confirms Agent Francis’ suspicions so off she and Deputy Salter go to the spooky house with the spookier basement (shades of Silence of the Lambs) and to confront the religious zealot Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia) who is convinced that demons have taken his wife and son from him. Things are not what they seem, demons are all too real, and soon we’re battling B grade special effect lightning storms, interdimensional portals, and an ending lifted from Invasion of the Body Snatchers

I can’t say I disliked Devil’s Gate. It’s perfectly serviceable as a B grade thriller straddling the line between horror and science fiction/fantasy. In many ways, it feels like an over long episode of The X Files with its tension between skeptics and believers when dealing with phenomena beyond human comprehension. The whole thing is written and directed by Clay Staub, a second unit director on some big budget Hollywood projects such as 300 and my guess is he was drawn to this material by its claustrophobia, the opposite of the expansive cinematic canvases he’s been working with in the past. 90% of the film takes place in the isolated farmhouse with a small core cast and he’s pretty good at making the most of it and ratcheting up the tension without revealing too much too fast. His biggest fault is going for visual and script tropes from other, better films rather than thinking up his own unique solutions to the problems posed by his story.

The cast are mainly known for their television work in various long running series (and likely jumped at the chance for a feature credit). None of them is bad in their role but none of them comes across as a great screen presence either. Devil’s Gate is carried mainly by Ms. Schull (best known for the TV series Suits and 12 Monkeys) and Mr. Ventimiglia (best known for the TV series Gilmore Girls, Heroes, and This is Us). They work relatively well together but I get the feeling that Ms. Schull was directed to be a little too restrained and Mr. Ventimiglia was directed to be a little too over the top and this throws the balance off somewhat in their work together. Jonathan Frakes barely registers as he’s barely in the film and Shawn Ashmore, the one of the twins from X-Men and The Following and not the one from Smallville, is pleasant to look at but doesn’t create much of a character.

In brief, Devil’s Gate is competently made, mildly diverting, will hold your attention somewhat, but won’t change your life in any particular way. I recommend it for viewing when you’re stuck with a mundane household task that doesn’t require too much concentration.

Bear trap booby trap. Hidden Volkswagen. Mysterious stones. Gratuitous generational curse. Religious zealotry. Unidentified goo. Dead communications devices. Multiple lightening strikes. Sudden reappearances.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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