A FEW years ago, a quartet of filmmakers known as Radio Silence, comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella and Justin Martinez, helmed a segment of the horror anthology film V/H/S about four friends who show up for a Halloween house party, only to realize that not only are they in the wrong home, they have stumbled onto an exorcism. The segment ends in a melee of brilliantly staged and horrific mayhem and inventive visual effects.The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Magnolia Pictures. The group’s 2010 short film Mountain Devil Prank Goes Horribly,went “viral” and led directly to the V/H/S assignment. That in turn led to Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett getting the nod to direct their debut feature film, “Devil’s Due,” with Villella and Martinez serving as executive producers.
The quartet’s work on “Devil’s Due” showcases a series of ramped-up scares, shocks and an overall disquieting tone. But, notes Gillett, they were also striving to make a thriller that “feels really emotionally connected and character driven from the start. In “Devil’s Due,” after a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behavior in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but, as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin.
“The film is not just a highlight reel of scares and crazy supernatural images,” he continues. “It’s about these two people who are at the beginning of their lives together. DEVIL’S DUE tracks their relationship and how it progresses as a strong supernatural element starts to seep in.”
“We’re genre fans but we’re also movie fans,” adds Bettinelli-Olpin. “So our focus was on the relationship between the young couple and on legitimate, character-based humor, which is present throughout a lot of the movie, if you watch for it. The love story is something audiences can really latch ontoas they watch the couple marry and plan for the arrival of their baby.”
Along with the scares, the filmmakers focus on the two lead characters. “The style of DEVIL’S DUE allows you to be involved in the relationship between Zach and Sam in a really intimate and almost voyeuristic way,” says Bettinelli-Olpin. “And we wanted to own the pregnancy from the start; we didn’t want to hide it and make you wait. So, the scene where Sam is impregnated is about 15 minutes into the movie.”
Even when a specific cast member refused to follow direction, the filmmakers still found gold in the recalcitrant thespian’s work. Gillett explains: “We cast Maverick, who plays Zach and Sam’s dog, a couple of weeks before principal photography, and our animal trainer, Sid Yost, worked his butt off to train the golden retriever. But Maverick couldn’t do a single thing we needed him to do. So we just let the cameras roll and let Maverick do whatever he wanted to do – and it ended up being far more interesting than anything we had choreographed.”
While Maverick worked on his improvisational and Method acting, the two-legged performers were tasked with not only delivering their performances, but on occasion, operating the state-of-the-art, wireless Sony EX3 camera. The portable camera was small enough, says Bettinelli-Olpin, “that we could do some crazy things with it without having to build elaborate camera rigs. It also allowed us to give the camera to the actors, and there are a fair number of moments where they’re actually operating the camera themselves.”
The naturalistic performances extend to even the smaller roles, including ‘Brittany,’ a young girl who’s receiving her first communion at a ceremony that goes terribly awry. The part is winningly played by New Orleans resident Madison Wolfe. “Time and again, we were surprised with how incredible our entire cast was,” says Bettinelli-Olpin.
“Devil’s Due” opens March 19 in theaters nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.