With a title like Devil’s Gate, we pretty much know exactly what we’re in for, right? Except this juicy little kitchen sink thriller is precisely not what you, I, or anyone else is expecting. Kicking things off with a killer cold open involving Saw-like traps surrounding an isolated farmhouse, it wrong-foots the audience from the outset. And things only get murkier from there.
Our protagonist is grizzled small-town cop Colt (the always welcome Shawn Ashmore) who finds himself reluctantly paired up with a take-no-shit federal agent (Amanda Schull, star of TV’s Twelve Monkeys and Pretty Little Liars among others) when the wife and child of a local man (Milo Ventimiglia, ageing rather nicely) go missing.
Upon visiting the farmhouse where Ventimiglia’s Jackson Pritchard (the most American name since Brock Hudson) has holed himself up, the two soon realise that something sinister is afoot. There’s something in the basement, and Jackson’s efforts to keep whatever it is inside, and everybody else out, are not to be taken lightly.
The flick is set in the titular area of North Dakota, but was lensed in Canada. Not that you’d know it, the over-saturated colour scheme (lots of blues, greys and browns) perfectly reflecting Middle America. It looks a bit like No Country For Old Men‘s grumpier cousin, and its nihilistic outlook will play particularly well in Trump’s America.
It’s difficult to discuss Devil’s Gate without spoiling the film’s many hidden pleasures. Subverting our expectations at virtually every turn, Staub and Peter Aperlo (another newcomer, with whom he co-wrote the script) intentionally play with different genres, going from straight horror (that opening) to police procedural (as Colt and Daria try to solve the case) to something nastier.
The big reveal of the creature (which won’t be spoiled here) is terrific, and much more devious than the title, or even the preceding moments, would suggest. CGI is sparingly used throughout, the talents of the great Javier Botet utilised to bring the creature itself to life in a way a computer never could, or indeed should.
Religious overtones further complicate Devil’s Gate, and there will be those who flock to it thanks to Ventimiglia’s (who’s enjoying a second wind thanks to This Is Us) inclusion, but for anybody on the fence, this one is more than worth your time. Character driven, creepy and loaded with legitimately puzzling twists and turns, it’s one of the strongest offerings in its sub-genre in years (just don’t look up what exactly that sub-genre is).
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Clay Staub
Writer(s): Clay Staub, Peter Aperlo
Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Bridget Reagan
Studio/ Production Co: Caramel Film
Length: 94 minutes
Sub-Genre: Nope. You’re better off not knowing.