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The Device (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE DEVICE (2014)

Starring: Angela DiMarco, David S. Hogan, Kate Alden, Gabriel Congdon

Written By: Jeremy Berg, John Portanova Directed By: Jeremy Berg

The Short Version

Behold: earthbound sci fi horror with a very definite emphasis on the horror.

It’s not “buckets of blood horror,” mind.  This is creepy, atmospheric horror.

If you think you’ve seen this before on “The X-Files,” you haven’t.

The cast is outstanding, and the direction is spot on.

If you’re up for some creepiness, The Device is definitely worth your time.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

A BALL OF CHEDDAR.

It’s tasty, and it’s watching you.  Maybe even speaking to you.  It’s everywhere.


Pairs Well With...

SYRAH.

“Honey, you look a little empty handed.  How about some wine?”

“Yes, thank you!”

“I never punched a teacher in the face.”

“Don’t worry.  There’s still time.”


Small budget indie science fiction horror.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

Often, that statement is true for all the worst reasons.  The cash wasn’t there for the effects.  The writers couldn’t get past the clichés.  The actors didn’t take it seriously.  The aliens were just plain embarrassing. 

I’ve seen far too many of those pictures.

The Device – itself a small budget indie science fiction horror flick – is also not for the faint of heart… but in this case, the statement is true for the very best of reasons.  It’s true because The Device is creepy.

I don’t get to see enough of these pictures.

It starts off in what almost feels like slasher territory.  Estranged sisters who haven’t seen each other in twelve years get together to scatter their recently deceased mother’s ashes in a lake near the old family cabin.  (Assuming that a rather nifty looking A-shaped house in the woods can be called an old cabin.)  Old traumas are discussed, and a simple yet sinister object is found.  But instead of calling up a diabolical killer from the depths, the object attracts the attention of something scary from the sky…

If you think you’ve got a decent guess regarding basic framework of what happens next, you’re probably right… but only to a point.  The Device may play in the recognizable “alien visitor” section of the park, the execution of what at first seems familiar definitely keeps it from being just another “been there/done that/saw it on ‘The X-Files’ back when” affair.  It’s the details that make it all work, and The Device is all about the details.

Start with the Device itself.  It’s a dark, featureless sphere.  Most people take a picture of it, and it’s a paperweight.  But when Jeremy Berg (who does double duty as Director and Director of Photography) takes a picture of it, it’s a nasty, malevolent thing that no sane person in full control of his or her own faculties would want to be within ten feet of.  Why?  Because the Device isn’t just present when the camera is looking, nor is it in terms of off camera perception just present in whatever physical spot it is known to be placed.  Thanks to some very atmospherically heavy camera work (including a particularly well-done slow pan that turns some reasonably common but ugly floor tile into Hell’s own anticipatory lava), the viewer is always left with the impression that if the Device isn’t front and center, it’s just around the corner… or sitting in the next room… or under the bed… somewhere close enough to be right there.

It’s also helps that, much like John Williams turned an orchestra into a shark even when there wasn’t a fin to be seen, Joseph Molner crafts an exceptionally creepy score that amplifies Berg’s direction and camera work and brings the Device not just into every location on the screen, but indeed, into the viewer’s own living room.

Oh, yes; this is a horror film.

That Berg and co-writer John Portanova treat it as such is something else that keeps The Device from stepping too far into old familiar “X-Files” territory.  Sure, there are aliens (and marvelously realized ones at that, especially given the budget), but the aliens feel less like sci fi creatures than they do good old fashioned soul-stealing monsters. When our poor doomed friends first discover the Device, it’s natural to bypass the standard moment of science fiction wonderment and instead yell at the screen because ones knows that this is a case of “found the Counselor’s head in the toilet so why aren’t you running away from the campground?” syndrome.  Sure, sci fi is the frame, but icing up veins is the game.

Of course, none of that behind the camera craft would be worth much without a decent group of people in front of it, and there again, The Device comes up aces, both in terms of written characters – all of whom defy some facet or other of common expectation – and of cast.

First there’s the catalyst character, Rebecca, played by Kate Alden.  Rebecca is perhaps the most refreshing catalyst you’ll meet in any horror flick (or any drama, for that matter).  She’s not stupid, she’s not whiny, she’s not a strung out tweaker; she is, in fact, not any kind of annoying at all.  Yes, she’s been through some really nasty trauma in her life – no matter which version you’re hearing, it’s awful – but sensibly guarded though she may be, Rebecca turns out to be the level headed voice of reason.  That’s nifty writing, and Kate Alden makes the character as real as anyone you saw at the coffee shop this morning, or your best friend from school.  With Alden working behind those eyes, it’s impossible to not like Rebecca, and that makes The Device all the more unnerving.

This brings up the other neat trick pulled by the screenplay.  By default, characters in these sorts of films have to do things that the audience (which, by default, knows better) know to be stupid.  The creepy object will be picked up.  It will not be left behind.  There will be lies told about getting rid of it.  Bad things will happen as a result.  And yet, every irrational decision makes sense, because between the words of the script and the skills of the people reading them, every one of those irrational decisions can be justified as a consequence of first normal curiosity (we’d all pick up the ball) and then of normal human emotional responses.  (News flash: we do dumb stuff when we’re upset.)  So even as bad decisions are made, they don’t draw ire that might otherwise bring the audience out of the moment.  What’s more, once those irrational decisions start to segue into at least one character listening to the creepy voices inside his head, the transition is so smooth that a viewer can second guess just how long those voices might have been whispering in there, amping up the horror that much more.  Credit actor David S. Hogan for a seamless slide through the tunnel of Jekyll and Hyde.  (And then credit the makeup crew for a quick flash of “yeek!” during a particular scene in the basement.)

But at the end of the day, The Device is all about its protagonist, Abby, and actor Angela DiMarco knocks this one out of the park.  Even with all of the above mentioned good stuff going for it, The Device lives or dies based on the strength of DiMarco’s performance, and she nails every moment.  Her performance is a natural one (and anyone who understands anything about actors’ craft knows that the hardest thing in the world is to not look like one is acting), but she anchors it with a subtle but all-important gravitas that forces the audience to take notice whenever she’s on the screen.  She’s not a scene stealer – not in any negative sense – but she very quietly yet very definitely leads the film.  Remember that direction I was talking about that hangs heavy with atmosphere, and that music that plays pupper master with the senses of the audience?  The sinister ball?  The nasty creature?  The sympathetic Kate Alden, and the intense David S. Hogan?  That’s all on side of the scale.  Angela DiMarco is on the other.  The scale is balanced.

And then there’s something that I’m starting to recognize as a signature from The October People as a production team: that ending.  That damn.  Creepy.  Ending.

Like I said: I don’t get to see enough of these pictures.

Bottom line, if you’re a sci fi/horror fan or even just a straight up horror fan, and you like getting your chills from mood and creepiness instead of from buckets of blood, The Device is just the sinister sleep stealer you’re looking for.  The thrills are real, and the quality is outstanding.  This one is very much worth your time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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