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. It was released theatrically October 5th, 2012.
Before directing the V/H/S segment, entitled 10/31/98, Radio Silence was known as Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky, formed in early 2007 by Villella, Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky. Their breakout short, the found footage style Alien Roommate Prank Goes Bad, was released in February 2008 and has been viewed over 30 million times.
In November 2008, the group began making a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style films. (They coined the term 'Interactive Adventures" to describe the series). The Time Machine: An Interactive Adventure was the first interactive movie on YouTube.
Justin Martinez and Tyler Gillett joined in 2010 and, in 2011, Rob Polonsky left the group. The remaining four changed their collective name to Radio Silence. 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 Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett getting the nod to direct their debut feature film, Devil's Due, with Chad Villella and Justin 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 Tyler Gillett, they were also striving to make a thriller that 'feels really emotionally connected and character driven from the start.
'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 Matt 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 onto as they watch the couple marry and plan for the arrival of their baby."
'And the fear that comes with that has nothing to do with the horror genre," Tyler Gillett interjects. 'Our approach to the genre has always been to find interesting characters and tell their stories first, and add genre elements on top of that. The result, we hope, is a story about people you recognize from your own life – and then you watch cool and terrifying stuff happen to them."
We meet the young couple, Zach McCall (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) as they're about to tie the knot. A bright future lies ahead for them – and after an emotional wedding ceremony, they take off for a honeymoon in the sun-kissed Dominican Republic. Their trip takes a bizarre turn after an uncomfortable session with a psychic, who ominously warns the couple that 'he has been waiting."
More than a little taken aback by the encounter, Zach and Sam find themselves lost on some dark and empty streets when they finally find a cab driver, who insists on driving them to a subterranean bar for an 'autentico" Dominican Republic experience.
Then, things get really unsettling.
Sam and Zach soak up the unusual surroundings – as well as copious quantities of alcohol. We catch fleeting glimpses of disturbing images from the revelry: a heap of bones, a grinning skull, a hideous flash of a limp and bloody female body, muffled voices…and a low, insistent chanting.
Flash forward to the next morning. The newlyweds remember little of the previous night's events. Shortly after their return home, Sam learns she is pregnant. Despite the surprising news, the couple makes plans for an addition to their new family.
Soon, however, disturbing clues emerge that their situation is anything but normal: an ultrasound exam and amniocentesis take a troubling turn; on a grocery shopping expedition, Sam, a vegetarian, crams raw, bloody meat into her mouth; in a shopping mall parking lot, she cracks the rear window of a car with a strength and ferocity that doesn't seem possible for a woman several months pregnant; and her belly seems to stretch and contort, as if the baby is pushing from the inside with extreme force.
Then, there's a cabal of shadowy figures who begin spying on the couple from hidden cameras – as a malevolent spirit waits to be born unto the world.
A film about a woman impregnated with…something powerful and evil, and dealing with the horrific consequences, has obvious narrative and thematic similarities to the classic horror film Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett note that they don't shy away from comparisons to the 1967 film.
'Rosemary's Baby comes up a lot when people see the trailer for Devil's Due, and it's not something were afraid of," says the latter. 'We're all huge fans of that film. We knew when we read [Lindsay Devlin's] script that there was an opportunity to borrow from it in a smart way, but more importantly, tell a more contemporary and accessible story."
There's a bonus connection: a crucifix on view in a hospital scene is a prop from Rosemary's Baby. The totem, which a Twentieth Century Fox executive obtained at an auction, also became an eerie decorative accessory during post-production. 'We cut the film by candlelight in the editing room, with the prop hanging on the wall above us," says Tyler Gillett with a laugh.
But Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and their Radio Silence compatriots Chad Villella and Justin Martinez, note that Devil's Due was inspired by more than just that acclaimed tale. The new film reflects the quartet's wide-ranging taste in movies, including Steven Spielberg mega-blockbusters, as well as lesser-known genre efforts, like The Strangers, House of the Devil, Horrible Way to Die, You're Next, and the films of Joe Swanberg and horror maven Eli Roth.
The latter's films had a particularly strong influence on the Devil's Due filmmakers. I remember seeing [Eli Roth's film] Cabin Fever, and thinking it was one of those movies that felt so new," says Tyler Gillett. 'Eli is fearless and another of his films, Hostel, about a vacation gone horribly wrong, became a sort of cornerstone when we were shooting the honeymoon scenes for Devil's Due."
Eli Roth, in turn, was impressed by Devil's Due and has become one of its principal champions. 'What I love about the movie is that you care about the characters so much," Eli Roth says. 'It's about every new couple's worst nightmare. What I thought [Radio Silence] did so well was that right from the get-go, it's like, -Yeah, she's impregnated by a satanic baby. Something awful happened to her; we all saw it.' I thought they took that idea in so many great directions."
One example of that is Devil's Due's community of 'watchers" who wait, ominously, in the shadows, for the birth of the Anti-Christ. As the script was being developed, the filmmakers researched real-life satanic cults, which inspired the notion of the watcher characters. 'They exist on the fringe of religious belief," says Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. 'Just the fact that that there are extreme and dangerous forms of Satanism out there really helped make our watchers feel like a real presence in the story."
'The cool thing we gleaned from our research is that these groups don't think of themselves as evil," adds Tyler Gillett. 'They're doing what they think is important and necessary work."
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 Matt 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."
Casting the two leads was a key element in the filmmakers' goal to bring audiences into Sam and Zach's world and their increasingly dire circumstances. Zach Gilford's 'everyman" likability – so evident in his signature role as high school football quarterback Matt Saracen in the acclaimed TV series Friday Night Lights – is on full display in Devil's Due. And, says Tyler Gillett, 'Allison Miller was one of the first people we auditioned, and she blew us away. We just fell in love with her, and with Zach; it never feels like they're acting."
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 Matt Bettinelli-Olpin.
Even when a specific cast member refused to follow direction, the filmmakers still found gold in the recalcitrant thespian's work. Tyler 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."
About The Production
Devil's Due was filmed on location in the Dominican Republic, at Carnivale and various other sites, including a nightclub in a ruined catacomb, where Zach and Sam spend the fateful final night of their honeymoon. The production then moved to New Orleans, where most of principal photography took place.
Radio Silence embraced the typical scheduling constrains that befall some genre fare shot with 'guerilla-style" filmmaking. 'We felt like we had an abundance of time and money, just based on the films we've made in the past," says Tyler Gillett. 'The biggest challenge was getting people on board for how we wanted to make the movie. That becomes as much a part of the creative process as actually filming Devil's Due. For example, we didn't need four hours to shoot a given scene because we didn't shoot coverage conventionally. We don't need to light things in a typical way because we're trying to create realism. We wanted to get everyone on board with the experiment of jumping in and lighting to shoot 360-degrees and really let the actors discover the scene.
'So it was more about giving everyone the sense that we're a part of this together, so let's jump in and have fun with it."
Still, no amount of experimentation could address some of the unexpected challenges during production, including a tornado that blew through the church set, which not only had the production scrambling to reschedule the day's shoot, but had the cast and crew hiding in the building's stairwells to avoid the fearsome winds.
Later, there was a fire – on the same set. 'Just the fact that it was happening in a church, and we're making a movie about the Anti-Christ, was just kind of creepy," says Matt Bettinelli-Olpin. 'To this day, it makes me smile every time I think about it."
Cast: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Running Time: 89 minutes
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.
Blu-ray Special Features:
Behind the scenes featurettes
YouTube short clips
Pranks and more to scare the devil out of you!
Blu-ray RRP: $25.95