J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Devil’s Gate

In today’s secular age, the FBI has replaced the Catholic Church as the institution protecting us from the uncanny (The X-Files and Fringe are just two of the most obvious examples). The problem is the G-Men do not always believe in the evil they are investigating. Special Agent Daria Francis is the latest Fed who comes in as Scully but will leave as a Mulder, assuming she lives through the investigation. Frankly, there is no reason to have confidence in anyone’s survivability (except maybe Jonathan Frakes’ character, thanks to his impenetrable beard) in Clay Staub’s Devil’s Gate, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Obviously, Francis’s career is not going so great, considering she has been assigned a case in Devil’s Gate, North Dakota. Jackson Pritchard’s wife and son have been kidnapped, but the farmer is acting oddly. Grizzly Sheriff Gruenwell has his earnest deputy, Conrad “Colt” Salter escort her to the Pritchard dirt patch, where they find it tricked out with booby traps.

Pritchard makes it abundantly clear he does not want them there, but Francis is in no mood care about his feelings. Of course, they will have to admit Pritchard isn’t so crazy after all, but only when it is too late to make a tactical retreat. It turns out the Pritchard homestead is parked right over some sort of supernatural portal. The next time it opens, he hopes to grab back his wife and son.

Devil’s Gate was probably the truest midnight movie programmed at this year’s Tribeca. There are some wonderfully gopey practical monster effects, which are nicely complimented by the attitude-drenched dialogue. Basically, they convince us it is a real hassle to find yourself under siege from slimy demonic creatures.

Amanda Schull really helps elevate Gate a notch or two. She is not just there to be an obtuse skeptic. She is a smart, hard-charging Federalli, who develops some nice fox-hole chemistry with Shawn Ashmore’s laidback Salter. As Pritchard, Milo Ventimiglia glowers with such intensity, his gaze could make house flies combust, which is perfect for a film like this.

Staub does such a great job constantly upping the madness, we look forward to his next film. It is a really dark film, yet it is always jolly good fun. Recommended for fans of creature features, Devil’s Gate should have plenty of midnight screenings in its future, following its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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