The other day, after I’d said a few words to a friend of mine about how much I liked a movie I’d just seen, she said I see things in movies that nobody else sees, find emotional depth in them that’s imperceptible to most people.
I think this was a nice way of saying, “Melodie, you are weird, intense and delusional about your gross devil movies,” but of course I can never prove that.
It’s just a little embarrassing, is all, because that same day, I actually was getting weird, intense and (perhaps) delusional about a movie in which–among other things–we see a she-devil going into labour as she prepares to whelp the Antichrist.
(Why did you have to suffer through labour for that, demon lady? You’re the devil. [Or A devil, at least.] Victoria Beckham is Too Posh to Push; why aren’t you?)
You have to be a little bit open-minded about devil movies, okay?
I’m not saying Hope for the best, because they are basically never the best, except maybe Rosemary’s Baby, and these days especially, mostly what you’re looking at with devil movies is some bullshit found footage pastiche of successful devil movies of yesteryear, as micromanaged by focus groups comprised of whoever was lined up at Del Taco that day.
(PROTIP: if the title has any iteration of the word exorcism in it and it is not The Exorcist, don’t watch it unless you are a) in night 17 or later of a horrible insomniac episode, b) trapped with relatives over a long weekend, or c) drunk. They could’ve cast six hundred Laura Linneys in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and it still would’ve sucked the root.)
Here are the building blocks for a kick-ass devil movie that is not The Exorcist:
That’s it, okay? Of course you want your devil movie to distinguish itself from the others somehow, maybe with an unusual plot, three-dimensional characters and the like, but if you follow my simple plan, and skip the Doubtful Priest™–because the Doubtful Priest™ is always ineffectual and doomed in devil movies–I think you’ll be all right.
Take Devour, for example.
I mean, full disclosure: I only took an interest in this movie because Jensen Ackles is in it, Supernatural is one of my favourite series ever, and it looked like it was up my alley to some extent (unlike Jared Padalecki’s Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage.)
Mostly when you watch a movie or TV show purely to satisfy the fangirl/boy in you, you come away from it feeling like you just jacked it to an extremely shameful search result on YouPorn. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen movies for fannish reasons over which I would kill you and eat you to prevent you from ever telling anyone my terrible secret.
I don’t know if Jensen Ackles has a great agent, great instincts or just a great big horseshoe up his ass, as they say in the parlance of our times, but I hit 3 for 3 on genuinely enjoyable movies made by him when I saw Devour.
It’s part slasher film, part psychological thriller, and part glorious, loopy throwback to the golden age of devil movies–the 70s, obviously–when everything was strangely lit and psychosexual and visceral, and Weird Stuff happened that you could almost understand, but then not really, because you aren’t a Satanist and you haven’t been dropping acid for four months straight.
Our Jensen Ackles is Jake: a sweet, protective, fundamentally decent college kid who is pleasant but has issues. Jake is coping with his headcase BFFs, his drunk dad who blames him for his mom’s quadriplegia (inexplicably!), his dillweed boss, and also, terrifying hallucinations of violence, surreality and gore, which he has not reported to anyone and for which he has therefore sought no treatment.
He might have done if there’d been a Visine for that, but there’s not.
Everything changes for him when his buddy signs him up for The Pathway: a mysterious community which at first seems to be a blatant rip-off of The Game, but turns out to be a kind of Satanic thrill ride where sometimes you exact petty revenge against your enemies, sometimes you see vast, leathery, horned beasts in your basement, and sometimes your friends go mental and bump themselves off in grisly, improbable ways.
(I’m just saying: if you ever find me having cut out my own tongue and jabbed pencils into my ears, maybe don’t leap to suicide as the only logical conclusion. I don’t have much to live for, but I also don’t own pencils.)
It turns out to be the worst birthday present ever, basically. And I say that as someone whose birthdays are like a box of chocolates filled with strychnine, cyanide and live baby scorpions.
Luckily, Jake is smart enough to follow the metaphorical trail of breadcrumbs far enough to determine that “the pathway” is also (supposedly) a Satanic term for the connection between the Devil and his possessed.
Less luckily, Jake learns that he’s adopted.
But if you have a long, long history of seeing Weird Stuff in your mind’s eye, and if you’re under an unusual amount of stress, how can you be sure of anything, really, when the people you love and trust keep telling you you’re wrong?
I love this movie. I do.
It’s not full of surprises, but it’s an incredible standout among today’s offerings for its faithful, modern take on that trippy, drippy 70s devil movie aesthetic.
In clumsier hands it could’ve been a ho-hum POS, but it has good production values, a gifted cast among both the hot dumbasses and the veteran character actors who support them (Oh hai, William Sadler!) and a sleek, intelligent script that never sells anybody short, even when it’s presenting a character like Jake’s slutty friend Dakota, whose backstory is basically a trope at this point.
In short: Devour! Don’t let the title or the cover put you off.
(And don’t think about how creepy it is that they used real childhood photos of Jensen Ackles for the title sequence where they all morph into skulls and devils. It’s a weird feeling, okay?)