REVIEW: The Devil’s Well
– By Sooz Webb
Presented in the ol’ mockumentary style that we’ve come to associate with the genre, The Devil’s Well is yet another entry into the cavalcade of found footage chillers. And while that sentence may make you roll your eyes and sigh with contempt, it provides enough intrigue to have us consider that there may be something more, beneath a shallow surface.
Things were going so well for husband and wife paranormal investigation team Bryan and Karla Marks. Not only were they stupendously in love, but they had a flourishing business going, a kickarse website with ardent devotees, and a slew of successful cases to bolster their name. Oh, and did I mention that they were hopelessly in love?? Wedded bliss right? And the cherry on the cake was going to be their latest adventure, to the mysterious hotspot known to locals as The Devil’s Well. Some say it’s a gateway to hell. Others will tell you it’s where yoofs go to imbibe in… whatever it is that kids are smoking/drinking/injecting into their eyeballs these days. So armed with camera and ghost hunting equipment, the pair set off to find out. But things, as things so often do, turn out for the worse. As Karla collects evidence on film, her camcorder runs out of batteries and like a noob she’d forgotten to pack new ones. Hubby heads back to the car to get a fresh set for his scatterbrain missus and when he returns, his wife is nowhere to be seen. Bryan finds himself a prime suspect in the ongoing case of her unexplainable disappearance.
We catch up with him a year later, free of any charges due to a lack of evidence, but still seen as guilty in the eyes of a judgemental public. Wishing to clear his name and learn the truth, the scrutinised spouse solicits the help of fellow spook seekers. But what they find is a lot darker, and more human, than they had bargained for.
The Devil’s Well is almost a tale in three parts. We’re introduced to the premise through true crime style interviews, where a bunch of talking heads and video evidence help to establish prior events. But while the preamble may help to provide some context and enable us to put names to faces, its run time is perhaps a little longer than necessary. That being said, it does play into the phenomenon’s believability. Strong performances help to bolster this, and if you were to stumble across the movie while channel hopping one night, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d happened across a pretty interesting documentary.
The second part is what we might recognise as the more ‘traditional’ found footage approach. A group of plucky adventurers head out to try and prove their pal’s innocence, and we watch as they’re decimated one by one, through shaky handheld camera work. This was the act I found least interesting, as there was nothing we haven’t seen before. Stock characterization impedes our desire to care for the crew; they’re cannon fodder and so we view them as such. The ‘thrills and chills’ aren’t much above bog standard either. Eerie noises, glimpses of unknown figures who seemingly vanish into thin air. Yawn. It is in some ways blessed relief when the squad start to meet their fate, and we discover what was really at the heart of this bewildering case.
Now the third act, I’m afraid, is where the film lost grip of reality. Or maybe I did, as we learn that far from evaporating from existence, Karla has joined a mask wearing cult who have taken style advice from Kiss and the Green Man. (I mean the Green Man as in made of twigs and leaves, not the guy whose appearance means ‘you can cross the road now’). And they seem to be aspiring filmmakers themselves as, in between hailing Satan, THEY are the ones who are kind enough to ensure that the narrative is rounded off nicely, by documenting their demonic worship. Well, at least they’re not secretive! Not only that, but it seems they post the footage to the police, or whatever metaphysical presence is supposed to have put this presentation together, as there’s physically no other way we could have come to such a neat conclusion. Not to be a Debbie downer, but it really puts the kibosh on any plausibility.
There’s a good movie at the core of The Devil’s Well, it’s just hampered by a lot of diatribe and dishearteningly hokey cliches. The cast do their best with the material provided and overall it’s an entertaining watch, give or take a few foibles. A note for the future perhaps that the devil is in the details.