Devil Seed (The Devil in Me) Reviews
This is more of a 2.5 star, rounded up to 3.
The introduction suggests a possession in 1972 terminated by the killing of the possessed young woman by a Catholic priest. Then we shoot forward to the present, say 2012, the year of the film's release.
Alex rides home from an airport with Jessica; they arrive at the new house where they meet Breanne, and soon Brian. Brian was Alex's boyfriend, but he had been intimate with Brianne when Alex arrived. Alex's grandmother has been ill, which was why she was gone most of the summer. Brian acts like things are still good between them.
That night they go to a party. Brian makes an excuse about needing to be with his father, and leaves the party early. As Jessica and Alex walk home a bit drunk, Jessica insists on stopping at a psychic's shop to check out whatever is needed to see the future.
Sigh. So let's see, we've got sexual infidelity, drunkenness, and messing about with occult implements. In the setting of Catholic mythos, this means there has to be at least one bad consequence coming up.
Jessica is incredibly insulting to the psychic, referring to her as a gypsy to hippie crossbreed, a 'gyppie.' This fits in with the plot, but what a terrible thing to say to someone you are going to for a service. The psychic asks for cash; Jessica supplies some for Alex to get a reading. The psychic guesses that Alex is an Aries, then asks which kind of cancer it was. Alex takes that to refer to her grandmother. The psychic goes on to say that Alex's mother has passed; the mother is worried for Alex. The psychic sees someone with Alex, and commands them to show themselves. The whatever takes possession, or at least a toe-hold with Alex then.
Alex gets home OK, which seems unlikely. Then the signs start showing up: electrical appliances start of their own accord; things go bump in the night; whispering voices; the next day, unexplained partially healed lacerations.
This is 30 minutes in. Bump in the night goes on for quite a while. Brian continues to cheat on Alex with Breanne. Alex starts to sleepwalk, in a creepy way. Alex and Jessica discuss this the next morning. Alex starts researching possession in the library and online. She does not seem to have the tools to get out of her situation.
People start to notice. She meets with a mixed bag of effective and ineffective advice and help. The cheating boyfriend is not all that helpful, nor is the well-intended professor at first. Soon enough, Brian just blames the whole thing on her so he can break off the relationship. Jessica, at least, is able to produce calm for short periods.
Things get much worse for Alex.
Will Alex seek help? If so, does she get help? Will Alex be freed from the possession?
Cinematography: 6/10 The introductory sequence mixed with the credits just stank on ice. The closing credits were hideous as well. The actual movie, with these black holes removed, was not that bad.
Sound: 5/10 Over-driven and unhelpful, in places; nicely tension building in others.
Acting: 4/10 Most of the performances were amateurish. Shantelle Canzanese was fairly good as Jessica.
Screenplay: 5/10 The writing establishes context quickly, which was nice. After the establishing phase, the action moves quite slowly. Much of the dialog is incredibly bad, which makes it worse.
Man, I really wanted to like Devil Seed, my "trolling the bottom of my Netflix queue" movie for the day. And for about twenty minutes, maybe thirty, I was able to keep up the illusion that it was actually going to work. There are a lot of good, if unoriginal, ideas in this flick, the acting is at least a few shades less than atrocious, Sager (in his directorial debut) has a firm grip on where one should put a camera for good, if not always maximum, effect. (Hold that thought, we'll be coming back to it). Where the movie fails-repeatedly, and hugely in spots-is in its script, co-written by Sager and Geoff Hart.
The plot revolves around three college-aged housemates. As we open, they're returning from summer break. Jessica (Son of the Sunshine's Shantelle Canzanese), over the summer, has brokered them a fantastic new place to live for the same amount they were paying last year. (Warning bells going off in your head yet?) Bree (Kenneyville's Vanessa Broze) has already gotten back by the time Jessica heads off to the airport to pick up the third housemate, Alex (Michelle Argyris in her big-screen debut). That enables Bree to get in a bit of sack time with Alex's boyfriend Brian (Nostrum's Kevin Jake Walker) before her roomies get back. (Ever since I saw that scene I've been trying to find a way to pun on Desperate Housewives for the review subtitle. You'll know if I managed to succeed by the time you read this sentence.) In any case, Alex is having some problems at home; everyone asks about her grandmother (whom we later learn is fighting breast cancer). As a tangent, Sager would have done this movie a great service if he'd turned that repetition into a theme (remember "I heard you were dead." in Escape from New York?) rather than just letting it be repetition, but back to the story. Party-girl Jessica wants to go out and get hammered before classes take up their time, and she drags Alex along, determined to cheer her up. After getting blasted, the two of them stumble into the basement studio of a cut-rate psychic (Louise Hollingsworth in her screen debut, and if there is any justice in the world she will go far; her scenes in this movie are easily the best) who turns out to be very good at what she does-too good, in fact, and over the next few days, Alex becomes convinced that she is possessed. Jessica refers her to Professor Madison (Silent Witness' Wayne Conroy) for help...
As I said, lot of very good ideas there. But they never cohere into anything that takes them and makes something interesting or original. There are also, aside from the script's glaring problems (they start at the beginning, stop being minor issues right after the first scene with the psychic, and by the time you hit the final sequence, they're monumental), some smaller things that by themselves aren't huge, but add up. As an example, take the camera placement in a pivotal scene. We, of course, know that Alex is quite correct in her assumption, but everyone else in the movie is in need of convincing. Without being too spoily, there's a particular scene where one of the characters referenced in the synopsis is given proof that Alex is indeed possessed when said character, seeing Alex being attacked by a demon, goes to help and is repelled by an invisible force. Alex is lying on the bed, and the character is standing between the bed and the doorway. The camera is placed on the other side of the bed, but angled low enough so a bit of the bed (and Alex) can be seen in the shot, which distracts from the effect Sager is trying to achieve here. It doesn't help that this scene is, if you change the relationship between the characters, an homage to/ripoff of a scene early in the 1980 fight flick The Entity-which means Devil Seed immediately invites comparisons both to The Entity and to the other modern film that visibly riffed on it, Insidious. Both of those are very, very good horror movies. Devil Seed is not, but it could have been an interesting one given a script that attempted to think a little more outside the ciborium. As it stands, though, there's no compelling reason to watch it save some gratuitous nudity from Vanessa Broze, and many reasons not to. Still, it's not the worst thing I saw this month. If you've got nothing better to do on a Saturday night and you're half-drunk... **
Nothing new, though.