'Devil's Path': Film Review

Too many dead ends.
3/1/2019

Two men become caught up in a deadly cat-and-mouse game while cruising on a hiking trail in Matthew Montgomery's thriller.

A potentially taut thriller is marred by frequently laughable dialogue in Matthew Montgomery's debut feature. Depicting the cat-and-mouse game between two gay men and the possible serial killers pursuing them in a remote location, the '90s-set Devil's Path earns points for infusing standard genre tropes with an LGBTQ context. But despite some effective moments, the film doesn't live up to its original premise.

The title refers to a hidden hiking trail in a wilderness park where gay men often go to cruise, although sexual gratification doesn't seem to be foremost in the mind of Noah (Stephen Twardokus, co-scripter with the director), who shows up bearing a deck of Tarot cards. After a rude encounter with two men (Jon Gale, Michael Hampton) who angrily threaten him after he accidentally bumps into them, Noah encounters Patrick (JD Scalzo), who's clearly in the area looking for casual sex.   

The two men begin talking and, despite the advice of a park ranger (Steve Callahan) who warns them that gay men have recently been mysteriously disappearing from the environs, they begin walking on Devil's Path. It isn't hard to guess what happens soon after, as Noah is attacked from behind after wandering off for a minute and he and Patrick begin fearing for their lives.

So far, so good, in terms of a reasonably effective setup. Unfortunately, little about the dialogue rings true. When Noah comments early on, "Everything seems so peaceful up here" and Patrick responds, "Things aren't what they seem," they might as well have the word "Foreshadowing" stamped on their foreheads. Even during the midst of their ordeal, the two men take the time and energy to utter such aphorisms as "Truth is never judgmental" and "Motive is overrated" while also engaging in philosophical musings about love and monogamy. At another point, the pursuing villains shout things like "Get 'em!"and "You can't hide!" as if they've wandered from a '30s-era Warner Bros. gangster drama.

The film attempts mightily but fails to inject mystery into the proceedings with such contrived plot revelations as Noah exposing horrific scars on his back, Patrick turning out to own a knife that once belonged to Noah's brother, and Noah displaying unexpected spider-killing skills. But when Noah also stops in his tracks to attempt to help a wounded bird lying on the ground, it simply defies credulity.

In another example of the screenplay's clumsiness, when an asthma inhaler used by one of the characters is introduced, you can rest assured that it later figures heavily in the plot, much like Chekhov's gun.

All of this extraneous nonsense slows the action down to the point where director Montgomery is unable to sustain any suspense. And while a major plot twist late in the game proves as surprising as intended, by that point it's too little, too late.

The two lead actors deliver strong performances, with Twardokus particularly effective at keeping us guessing about his strange and enigmatic character. Unfortunately, it's not enough to keep the film, like its protagonists, from wandering down the wrong path.

Production: Proteus Pictures
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Stephen Twardokus, JD Scalzo, Jon Gale, Michael Hampton, Steve Callahan
Director: Matthew Montgomery
Screenwriters: Matthew Montgomery, Stephen Twardokus
Producers: Steve Callahan, Jon Gale
Executive producers: Deborah Bashur, John Scheve
Director of photography: Stephen Tringali
Production designer/costume designer: Maisie Cafeo
Editor: Alan Rowe Kelly
Composer: Ceiri Torjussen

87 minutes