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 5, 2012.
Before directing the V/H/S segment, entitled 10/31/98, Radio Silence was known
as Chad, Matt & Rob, 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
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, 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 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.
"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 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,"
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
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
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.
Bettinelli-Olpin and 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 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 Gillett with a laugh.
But Bettinelli-Olpin, 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 [Roth's film] Cabin Fever, and thinking it was one
of those movies that felt so new," says 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."
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," 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 with 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 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 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 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 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 Bettinelli-Olpin.
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."
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