21st Feb2018

‘The Devil’s Well’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Bryan Manley Davis, Anne-Marie Mueschke, Chris Viemeister, Lauren Sowa, Kris Manners | Written and Directed by Kurtis Spieler

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The Devil’s Well and living in New England, it seems. The found footage subgenre shows no signs of giving up the ghost – but, on this evidence, it’s showing plenty of signs of stagnation.

Karla Marks (Anne-Marie Mueschke), a paranormal activity enthusiast, went missing during a trip to visit the fabled “Devil’s Well”, a supposed gateway to Hell hidden in a creepy abandoned building. The first half of the film is mostly comprised of talking heads interviews with local police officers, lawyers and the main suspect himself: Bryan (Bryan Manley Davis), Karla’s husband, who was with her when she vanished. There’s a lot of dry and frankly dull speculation about what might have happened. The script is flavourless.

Then, like Cannibal Holocaust, which also left its found footage stuff for the second half, the film shifts gears. Part 2 charts the expedition to the Devil’s Well by “S.I.G.N.S”, a group of paranormal investigators. This section is marginally better.

And suddenly it’s named character overload. Led by the highly professional Lucas (Chris Viemeister), the team includes the usual suspects: the sceptical one, the gung-ho ex-military one, the spiritual medium, the panicking blonde, the director cameo etc. We get a lot of inconsequential background characterisation – garnish that makes little difference to individual character motivations or audience empathy.

The script doesn’t improve, remaining a process of telling over showing. There’ll be a scene where someone describes the drop in temperature of a room; where someone says he saw a figure dash across a corridor; or where the cameraman is “pushed” by an unseen presence. And it’s not worth it, because the reveal of the unspeakable evil at work is crushingly underwhelming.

As an epilogue, certain characters are still open to the possibility that something paranormal occurred, despite the documentary footage clearly showing… well, that nothing paranormal occurred.

There are further, logic-breaking issues. The footage has supposedly been edited together by one the survivors. But after experiencing an event so traumatic, why would that survivor splice the documentary together as a horror movie, rather than the tragic incident it is? Then there’s the Found Footage Conundrum, which so many films fail to overcome. The Devil’s Well is presented as found footage, but the dialogue and performances do not imply simulated reality. It’s distinctly melodramatic. Stick to the plan, guys. There’s even a moment when one of the mask-wearing evil-doers seems to pick up a camcorder to film their ritual, which is silly and quaint and quite anti-scary.

Indeed, given the lack of tonal and stylistic consistency, Lynn (Lauren Sowa) the medium – the irritating one who always gets the chills and talks forebodingly about “energy” – is arguably the most believable, due to their inclination toward theatricality. After all is said (ad nauseum) and done we don’t even get any fun murders when the bad guys finally show up. The death scenes are lame, tame and uninspired: shootings, stranglings, stabbings. They’re more like indignant squatters than minions of Satan.

The Devil’s Well isn’t terrible, it’s just terribly mediocre. Conceptually it’s generic, and stylistically it doesn’t stand up to even the most basic scrutiny. It’s one to be viewed only as a last resort.

The Devil’s Well is out now on DVD and Digital.

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