29th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘Devil’s Gate’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Milo Ventimiglia, Bridget Regan, Amanda Schull, Javier Botet, Shawn Ashmore | Written and Directed by Clay Staub

Devils-Gate-poster

A wife and child have gone missing in the small town of Devil’s Gate, North Dakota. While all indicators point to husband Jackson Pritchard as the prime suspect, pushy outsider FBI agent Daria Francis instinctively feels something else is going on in this incestuous hamlet and together with deputy Colt Salter goes to investigate. And indeed they do track down Pritchard, a man caged in unrelenting darkness and despair…

A genre-bending, genre-blending mix of horror, sci-fi and backwoods adventure, Devil’s Gate is one of those films that takes oftern cliched parts from other genres and utilises them in new ways – by playing with and subverting audience expectations to create a story that uses misdirect and convention-bending in ways other films use stereotypes and cliches. Even the title is a misdirect!

Starting out as a backwoods serial-killer tale, Devil’s Gate swiftly takes a turn into pseudo-religious horror before revealing itself to be an epic sci-fi horror. And much like The End?, which also played at Frightfest this year, the film finds a way to tell a small-scale, intimate, human story within the what turns out to be a much, much bigger tale. This is a story about a family torn apart againgst their will, by not only the outside forces at work in the fields around their farm but also by themselves; the truths unveiled in the course of this story forever shattering not only a family unit, but the American dream.

For that’s what this film is also about: how far would you go in the pursuit of the American dream? Would you sell your soul to… someone or something? Would you endanger others to protect your livelihood, your family and your secret? And what if that secret would cause irreparable damage to not only those around you, but you yourself? It’s a journey Jackson Pritchard takes through the course of Devil’s Gate swift 90 minute running time – thank god then for Milo Ventimiglia.

Once again, Ventimiglia puts in yet another superb central performance as family man turned crazed husband Jackson Pritchard, giving an emotional performance in what is an emotional rollercoaster of a role. Pritchard is a man driven crazy by his desire to protect his family at ALL costs. But then that’s all he is trying to do: protect his family. It’s something any father, any husband, would do faced with the adversities and challenges Pritchard is tackling. As for Ventimiglia, its easy to see why, from his performance here, his show This Is Us is the hottest show in the States – though Ventimiglia has been killing it in film roles since way back in 2003 and the hilarious teen comedy Winter Break (though for me his breakout role was the 2000 TV series Opposite Sex) – belying his heroic, good-looking persona that many will be familiar with; here he’s gets to show off his grubby, psychotic wild side – the kind of crazed madman audiences would normally expect to see in a serial killer or slasher movie.

But Devil’s Gate is neither of those. This is a sci-fi horror with a terrifying central concept.

It’s interesting to note that all of the Devil’s Gate cast have experience within the genre: be it Ventimiglia on Heroes, Shawn Ashmore in the X-Men movies and on Smallville, Amanda Schull in Syfy’s 12 Monkeys… hell, the film features Jonathan Frakes, aka Star Trek: TNG’s Commander Riker, in his first on-screen role in over a decade! It’s both an intriguing nod to the genre and an excellent way of knowing that your cast can deliver when it comes to genre storytelling.

The genre credentials aren’t kept to just in front of the camera either, Clay Staub – who not only wrote and directed the film but also storyboarded each and every scene, creating the films “villains” in the process – worked on the likes of the Dawn of the Dead and The Thing remakes. And this is his baby, his passion project if you will. It’s a passion that truly translates to the screen – this film looks amazing, from the eerie locale, to the bizarre “villains” and the skies above Pritchards farm (a character in themselves almost), Staub’s vision has created a film that is, visually, as bleak as its story.

For like a lot of this years Frightfest film, Clay Staub does not wrap up his tale in a pretty little bow and deliver a happy, shiny ending. This tale ends a bleakly as it began…

**** 4/5

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