'Devil's Gate': Film Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Sci-fi-in-disguise debut is for genre diehards only.

Milo Ventimiglia plays an isolated father communing with creatures from the heavens in Clay Staub's sci-fi horror picture.

A farmer's fringe-y religious beliefs prove oddly rooted in reality in Devil's Gate, the first feature by director Clay Staub and his co-screenwriter Peter Aperlo. The fact that the pic is titled Abduction in other territories more than hints at the fact that what this troubled man sees as angels or demons may in fact be old-fashioned extra-terrestrials. But his confusion and zeal add little texture to this unmoving genre exercise. A cast with plenty of exposure on TV series may help with the film's commercial prospects, but only the least critical genre auds are likely to enjoy it much.

Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us) plays Jackson Pritchard, whose family has owned this plot of land for several generations, barely scraping by but believing angels will some day make the ground fertile. Though he's known to be unkind to his wife and son, local good-ol-boy lawmen don't want to question him when they disappear. It takes an out-of-town FBI agent, Amanda Schull's Daria Francis, to force the issue, insisting that sheriff's deputy Colt Salter (Shawn Ashmore) accompany her out to the family compound.

In addition to creaky, booby-trapped buildings that scream "hillbilly serial killer," the two encounter some phenomena they can't easily explain; with Pritchard trying to threaten them off his land and sabotage their attempts to search his home, they have little chance to protect themselves before they realize what the man has trapped in his basement.

Suffice to say that the icky thing down there is not only connected to Pritchard's family's disappearance, but it has friends. Soon, the humans are in a siege situation, trying to fend off beasts until they can find a way back to safety.

Though the FX and photography are competent for a film of this scale, the screenwriters appear to have put much less effort into dialogue and pacing. That, plus hit-and-miss acting, means viewers may have a hard time sticking with the film until the real action starts. Even then, they won't be rewarded with much in terms of mystery: Though Aperlo and Staub allude not just to religious faith but to real-world themes of colonialism and conquest, what's onscreen isn't persuasive enough to give those themes the appropriate weight.

Production companies: Mednick Productions, Caramel Film
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore, Bridget Regan, Jonathan Frakes
Director: Clay Staub
Screenwriters: Peter Aperlo, Clay Staub
Producers: Valerie d'Auteuil, Ian Dimerman, Scott Mednick, Andre Rouleau, Brendon Sawatzky
Executive producer: Skyler Mednick
Director of photography: Miroslaw Baszak
Production designer: Rejean Labrie
Costume designer: Heather Neale
Editors: Guillaume Girard, Yvann Thibaudeau
Composer: Keefus Ciancia
Casting director: Victoria Burrows

94 minutes