As recent reviews on this very site have shown, finding a hidden gem among the low-budget “found footage” horror offerings on Hulu can indeed be exhausting work — but the good news is that sometimes it pays off. For awhile, at any rate. Which isn’t to say that the film under our metaphorical microscope this evening, 2014’s Chasing The Devil (which I’m given to understand is soon to see release on DVD — though not on Blu-ray, go figure), is in any way a masterpiece or anything, but it does manage to stand out more than a bit among its competitors, and after several evenings of cinematic near-torture, I think my mental faculties have been whittled down to the point where that is, perhaps sadly, good enough for me.
Our particulars for this one go as follows : actor Patrick McCord (played by Tim Phillipps) isn’t buying that his sister Annie committed suicide, no matter what the cops and the medical examiner’s office tell him. His own independent investigations seem to be pointing to strange goings-on at his own family’s estate/ boarding house, and so he duly follows the advice of his documentarian buddy, Frank (Ary Katz) and enlists the help of a trio of paranormal troubleshooters (they even call themselves “parashooters” — don’t worry, I cringed, too) with a mind toward spending an evening in the probably-haunted house and — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — find out what’s really going on.
The triumvirate- for- hire are generally standard-issue central casting ciphers of the bland variety, consisting of skeptic/host Becky (Vivian Dugre), good-natured camera/sound technician Grant (Chis Yule), and resident psychic Thomas (Cory Knauf of The Hamiltons), but at least they’re all pretty decent actors, and when blood starts dripping from the walls in the form of Roman numerals, the search for answers broadens a bit — first to another home where another batch of “blood numbers” awaits them, and then, when they add ’em all together and figure it must be somebody’s SSN, to the residence of a troubled teen who seems to be exhibiting the same odd symptoms and behavior that poor, dead Annie did.
So, yeah, we’ve made the jump from “haunted house” flick to “demonic possession” flick in fairly short order here, and that’s nice in that director Mark Haber and screenwriter Douglas Segal (who both have short television resumes to their credit) seem intent on keeping their audience on shifting and slightly uneasy ground. Production values for this California-lensed low-budgeter are slightly higher than we probably have a right to expect, which also helps, but unfortunately Haber and Segal do manage to run out of good ideas before they run out of film (this one clocks in at 84 minutes), and the final act they serve us is a tired Evil Dead re-hash with decent — if minimal — effects, but not much else going for it.
If the movie’s title hasn’t already given it away, no less than Satan himself is the “Man Behind The Curtain” causing all the mischief here, and you’d think he’d be capable of summoning up some truly memorable evil shit on his way to killing everybody (whoops, spoilers!), but there’s nothing happening in the last 20 minutes or so that we haven’t seen before. The journey, then, is therefore much more interesting than the destination itself proves to be, but at least that gives us a film that’s reasonably involving for 75% of the ride.
If all of this has the worrisome ring of damning something with faint praise, well — guilty as charged. And I freely admit that if my last few trips down the “found footage” rabbit hole hadn’t been so abysmal, then maybe I’d be in a better frame of mind to give Chasing The Devil the review that it arguably deserves. But given the apparent state of the genre, we’ve gotta cling to whatever high points we can find, and Haber and company at least offer up enough here for us to temporarily cling to the hope that all is not quite lost — although it’s getting pretty close.