Found footage is a deceptive genre. Seemingly easy to pull off as long as the crew involved has a camera, a premise with a potential for something ominous and a reason – albeit mostly a thin one – as to why the characters involved are documenting every instance of their otherwise mundane lives, found footage is in reality much easier to screw up than to pull off because of having to tread that very thin line of fabricating an unreality that appears real enough to be passed off as documentary.
Should the filmmakers linger too long in the characters' verisimilitude, then a found footage film becomes bogged down in too much of watching regular people do regular things. On the other hand, without establishing the regular-ness of both the characters and the world they inhabit, there's no reason to care about whether the paranormal intrudes in their life or not. Look to any number of recent found footage misfires – The Devil Inside, Apollo 18, Paranormal Activity 4, Chernobyl Diaries – as prime examples of filmmakers who couldn't navigate that fine line.
Some of the best examples of the genre done properly can be found in 2012's V/H/S and its successor, 2013's V/H/S 2, so it would only make sense that a studio would hand the reins of a feature length found footage film to some of those who had already shown that have a grasp on how to navigate the tricky terrain. With Devil's Due, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two of the minds behind Radio Silence from V/H/S, have created a found footage horror film that falls into the same traps as the missteps mentioned above, but unlike those other directors, are able to salvage some respect because of excelling in other regards outside of the genre's inherent flaws.
Yes, there's nothing terribly groundbreaking about the premise behind Devil's Due: newlyweds Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller) return from a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic to find that they're expecting a baby. It doesn't make sense to Samantha considering that she has taken the pill "religiously," but we know that it must have something to do with the couple's lost night involving an underground club, lots of booze and some type of religious ceremony for which they were unconscious and which we only see through glimpses of sporadic digital frames shot by a camera stuffed into a purse.
Zach insists on recording every stage of the pregnancy for posterity, so that their son or daughter can look back on it later as a sort of video photo album. But as the pregnancy progresses, Samantha's moods begin to change. The vegetarian is caught eating raw chopped meat in the grocery store, she reacts violently to the slightest of provocations and she's seen carving something into the floor of the nursery near where her baby's crib rests. On top of that, mysterious hooded figures infiltrate their home and set up their own security systems to monitor the family. Infrequently heard by the newlyweds and never seen, these figures leave symbolic ash all around the house and seem to be connected directly to the child's conception with an interest in its birth.
Devil's Due has problems, many of which are glaring, but many of which would also come with the territory of any found footage film. The big question with any of these movies is why do they exist? The term "found footage" would mean that somebody had to have found it and further, somebody would have had to assemble it. Some titles – Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters, even Apollo 18 – carry the implication that the tragedy of its characters was discovered after the fact and the footage has been assembled in an attempt to either make sense of what transpired or reveal the "true" story that the powers to be wouldn't have us know. Devil's Due doesn't make sense in either regard. You'd think that with all the footage together assembled somewhere, there'd be no need for Zach to profess his innocence to the police at the genesis of the film and the inclusion of the security footage from the mysterious cult would definitely support his case. And like all found footage films with the exception of The Bay, the question of "why is all this being filmed" is answered tenuously at best.
But, as stated, those are problems that even the finest examples of found footage have to deal with. Others might complain that Devil's Due is boring, that it takes too long to get to the goods and that we spend too much time with the normal and not enough with the paranormal. While it's true that the film doesn't bombard the audience with scares, I for one am appreciative that the filmmakers spent enough time building the relationship and compassion between Zach and Samantha to provide an emotional impact when the cataclysmic ending hits. From beginning to end, Devil's Due is a story about two people who love each other and how they're unwitting and unwilling victims of an intrusive force. To the very end, Zach's only thought is for the comfort and care of the woman bearing what he believes to be his child and Samantha begs forgiveness for the actions over which she has no control. Combine that with the script from Lindsay Devlin, which acts as a metaphor for how a pregnancy could naturally disrupt the lives of a young, unprepared couple, and you've got a found footage film with a bit more depth than the rest.
The film is not all heart though. Bettinelli-Oplin and Gillette, whose "10/31/98" is unarguably the best segment of V/H/S, excel at seamlessly incorporating visual effects into the faux-realism of the found footage aesthetic and while CGI is unquestionably necessary in Devil's Due, its presence is never blatant or obnoxious, making it one of the best examples of the genre's aesthetic possibilities.