It should have been the happiest time of their lives. In Devil’s Due, newlyweds Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller) return home from their honeymoon, unable to recall an apparently eventful night of their trip. When Sam discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant, joy quickly turns to horror as things to spiral out of control. Through the couple’s video diary, Sam and Zach begin to notice dark forces are at work and fear their baby could be an unholy vessel for evil.
The movie is directed by Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin of the collective Radio Silence. The four guys, including Justin Martinez and Chad Villella, provided one of the most memorable chapters in the horror anthology V/H/S. Devil’s Due marks their feature film debut and Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin jumped on the phone to discuss satanic pregnancies and putting a new twist on the found footage genre.
Many horror fans know you as members of the filmmaking quartet Radio Silence. How did only the two of you become involved in Devil’s Due?
Tyler Gillett: Well, we murdered the other two! They are both here with us. We still did it team-wise. We came as a team to this whole thing. Justin is sitting about an inch from me. Chad is touching my leg right now.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It’s totally a credit thing. We still operate the same.
Gillett: We just approached it like we approach everything. It’s this filmmaking collective that just shows up and does shit. We’re the Voltron. We’re the punk rock band of the genre world. And the studio, to their credit and really everyone, including cast and crew that we worked with on this, were incredibly generous with meeting us half way on how we do things and what is expected of the process when you are working on a studio film. It’s been such an incredible experience. People have been so down with the idea of collaborating with the four of us directly.
Bettinelli-Olpin: It’s been a lot more of, “Come let us help you do what you guys do in a bigger way, and we’re here to support that,” as opposed to, “Come do it our way.”
How did you break up the workload?
Gillett: The best way to describe it is there isn’t a day in our lives that we don’t have a conversation, the four of us together, for better and for worse. When we show up, we are on the same page because we’ve had every conversation. We’re prepared to make choices collectively because we’ve all worked together on developing the concept and casting the movie and choosing the crew and all those important positions that really set you off in a very specific direction. We’re all so involved in that collectively that when new problems come up and when things need to be solved, finding the answers is pretty easy.
What was your initial impression when you first read the Devil’s Due script?
Bettinelli-Olpin: When we first read the script, we were scared of the found footage thing. We wanted to get away from that because we did that a couple of times in our online stuff and then obviously with V/H/S. But there was a real core story in the script between the two leads and their life together. The whole story starts with the promise of the rest of their life and the hope that is filled with. That really attracted us to it. Fox and the writer, Lindsay Devlin, were very open to us reworking it to make the found footage something we were all happy with.
Gillett: And we don’t even like calling it found footage. We consider it more P.O.V. where we use any camera that exists in the world. We don’t pretend that the footage was found or it’s the document the cops have or whatever other people have already used. We didn’t want to do that. They let us work with the script, and work with Lindsay, to get it to a place where we were really comfortable with the found footage. That allowed us to make a movie out of the story. Certainly we played by the most important rules, like motivating the camera and making sure that it exists for a reason and the reality of that reason isn’t ever bent so far that it takes you out of the reality of the film. But it really allowed us to have fun with the scope of where things go. It allowed us to cast some known actors and it’s allowed us to do some incredible things with the sound. It’s been really fun to take what feels so specifically defined and redefine it a little bit. We’ve kind of taken the Chronicle approach. There’s obviously no superhero element in this story, but we’re really making a cool movie using point-of-view cameras within the world of the characters. It works to enhance the story and is not just a cheap way to tell it.
Why is it such an effective storytelling device?
Bettinelli-Olpin: We are all familiar with it on a very personal level. Most of us don’t have 35mm cameras we watch home videos on. We all see these images and can relate to them, especially with YouTube and the technological advancements right now. There’s something so intimate about it and that’s what we really latched on to.
Gillett: It’s also so present. The number of times you get on YouTube every day or just watch a video feed on your phone or computer… That is a video of someone’s personal life. It’s just a really present style of storytelling right now.
How important was it to spend time with Sam and Zach and establish their relationship before it all hits the fan?
Bettinelli-Olpin: Incredibly important. We focused on that a lot. Our first cut of the first act was probably an hour long because we really had so much fun doing that stuff. Cutting that down was harder than cutting down anything else. We finally did. It was really important to us to present them in a way that the audience will be able to relate to them and hopefully like them and be involved in their lives so they will stay with them through the second and third act when shit goes really wrong.
Gillett: You really make the stuff in the second and third act matter so much more if you love these people. You want them to succeed, but you know in your heart that’s probably not going to be what the outcome is going to be.
Chronologically, how long after they are married do they realize something is amiss?
Gillett: It’s almost immediate. They get married and go on their honeymoon and very soon after that, it becomes clear that there’s something unnatural about the course their lives begin to take. It’s pretty soon after they’ve embarked on the adventure of life together that this evil begins to pull them apart.
Where does Father Thomas (Sam Anderson) fit in?
Gillett: He is kind of a member of Zach and Sam’s family in an interesting way. He marries them in the movie and then appears throughout. He’s a sounding board of sorts and as we check in with him, we get a sense of how far Zach and Sam’s relationship has deteriorated. He’s a good, innocent man that is a part of the damage of this whole evil.
Devil’s Due is already drawing comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. Were you influenced by those movies?
Bettinelli-Olpin: There’s no running away from those comparisons and we embrace them. We love both of those movies. This is our version of that story. We’re not trying to compete with Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. They are perfect movies and not touchable by us. As a fun little aside, we have a prop crucifix from Rosemary’s Baby in the movie.
How are you visually trying to push what has already been done before?
Gillett: The thing that is most original about the approach visually, or the style of the movie, is how the camera evolves as the story evolves. In the short form stuff we’ve done in the past, found footage is easy to do in really short pieces. If you play by the rules of the style, eventually shit just ends. The camera either runs out of batteries or gets destroyed or the characters get killed. It’s easy to keep things running for eight minutes or 20 minutes and still achieve a level of believability that the camera exists in that world. But over the course of an hour and a half, it becomes harder and harder to continue to justify why you’re seeing the movie this way.
As the events take shape and their lives deteriorate, the camera and the way you watch all of that happen starts to change as well. It’s a pretty weird experiment. We’re surprised and grateful that the studio took a chance on how weird and experimental the movie actually is.
Are you gunning for an R-rating?
Bettinelli-Olpin: Yeah, we had this discussion with the studio before the movie was made that “R” was where it should end up. They were supportive of that and yesterday, we got our official R-rating.
Can you talk about casting Zach and Allison? It looks like you put them through the wringer.
Gillett: We did. Allison came in and she was one of the first people we auditioned for Sam. She set the bar so high that we were basically like, “Nope, Allison. She’s not Allison.” That was kind of a no-brainer. Then with Zach, he was just fantastic and had such a natural way about him. We loved in Friday Night Lights. Then we loved him in person and his auditions were amazing.
Bettinelli-Olpin: And then his chemistry read with Allison was like, “Holy shit! I totally believe them as a couple and I relate to them and I want them to win. I want them to succeed.”
When it comes to the end, do you prefer wrapping things up completely, leaving it ambiguous or closing with a twist?
Gillett: All play well depending on what the movie is. Some of the best movies ever don’t really wrap up anything. I definitely think with this movie, and with this style, there’s always something interesting about leaving a little bit of the story untold and allowing the story to exist outside of the lines of the movie. Hopefully we found some interesting ways to do that with Devil’s Due.