If you follow this site with any sort of semi-regularity, you’re already well aware of the fact that, for whatever reason, I’m far less burned out on the “found footage” horror sub-genre than most of my “peers” in unpaid amateur critic-land (indeed, one could argue that I’m less burned out on it than I probably should be), and you’re also more than familiar with my occasional penchant for actually following those “we’ve got a new movie that you might like” email recommendations from Netflix, so — yeah, I guess if the two were combined, I’d be a pretty easy mark.
Which is exactly what I feel like having watched the new (as in brand new, 2015 release date and all) horror “mockumentary” Devil’s Backbone, Texas, a decidedly lackluster affair that landed in the Netflix instant streaming queue a week or two back before even making its way onto DVD, Blu-ray, or other “home viewing platforms.” The no-doubt-mechanized arbiters of taste decided for me in advance that I’d “probably” enjoy this one, and I gave in to their suggestion as easily as a South Carolina cop plants evidence on somebody he just shot in the back eight times for no fucking reason other than, ya know, he was running for his life from a psychotic racist uniformed killer. That’ll teach me, I guess — not because watching this movie is anywhere near as dangerous as the situation many black motorists pulled over by white cops find themselves in, but because there are parts of the flick that are so goddamn dull and uninspired that you wish you were dead, if only to relieve the tedium.
Still, like a number of cops who claim they’re “just looking to help you” or are “concerned for your well-being,” this movie lulls into a false sense of security at the outset. After all, its writer/director/star, one Jake Wade Wall, is fairly experienced in the horror game (having written the screenplays for the remakes of The Hitcher and When A Stranger Calls, among others), and is —at least to some degree — basing his material on purportedly “true” occurrences, to wit : his father, Bert Wall, really did live on a ranch in the reputedly haunted region of Devil’s Backbone, Texas (hence our title) and really was featured on a 1996 episode of the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries,” wherein he discussed some of the things that went bump in the night in his neck of the woods.
From there on out, though, the proceedings are pure bullshit. The elder Wall may in fact be dead (which would mean this entire enterprise is tasteless in the extreme, especially given that his own son is behind it), but it’s rather doubtful (to put it kindly) that he met his end due to some concentrated supernatural attack, as the premise here asserts. Jake makes sure that he’s a guy that everybody not just likes, but loves, so it’s easy for him to rustle up a group of his L.A. friends to go back to his old man’s homestead in a rented RV in order for him to “say goodbye properly” and what have you, but geez — here’s a tip, Jake : next time you want to get some of your out-of-work acting buddies to “star” in one of your productions for peanuts, make sure they can actually act. Of the entire ensemble cobbled together here, only Haley Buckner, who plays Debbie, is even remotely competent. The others are perpetually unemployed for good reason.
So, anyway, once the city slickers arrive and undertake their customary-for-these-sorts-of-things interviews with the “local yokels,” they’re pretty quickly set upon by unseen poltergeists who excel at making a noise and making a mess, but not much else. Sooner or later everybody gets annoyed to the point where they want to get the eff outta Dodge, but Jake has turned into an obsessed asshole who won’t leave until — shit, I dunno. He just won’t leave. And of course that will probably spell everyone’s doom.
Hell, probably? Try “definitely” — but at least we’ve got their “lost footage” to serve as a warning to all of us hapless schmucks to stay out!
That’s definitely what I should have done — and you should, too. There isn’t a single original moment in Devil’s Backbone, Texas, nor is there even an interesting wrinkle added to stuff you’ve seen a million times before. The phrase “hopelessly derivative” comes to mind here, but even that’s giving it too much credit. This is a brain-dead movie that hopes you’re just as insipid and clueless as it is, otherwise it’s got no chance of maintaining your interest.
If the real-life residents of Devil’s Backbone want strangers to keep away, then Wall has done them a very big favor with his film — this looks like the most deliriously boring “supernatural hot spot” in the world.