Scary Movie Month(s): Devour (2005)

Devour was the first movie for the first Scary Movie series of Leisure Time, and it was an interesting idea that didn’t exactly live up to its potential.

devour

It stars Jensen Ackles and was released the same year that his CW series Supernatural premiered. I don’t know how I’d feel about it if I’d watched it then, but coming to it a decade late, I can say that seeing Ackles do something other than Dean Winchester (or Jason Teague for you Smallville fans) was probably the most interesting thing about it.

He plays Jake, a college kid who has waking nightmares. He and his friends start playing a computer game called The Pathway that knows everything about them and calls them with cryptic messages and tasks to complete. It’s like Evil Facebook meets Evil Zynga, basically, and his friends kill their antagonists and themselves in ways that Jake sort of saw in his nightmares.

And then somehow the occult is involved, and Satan is a giant tree-looking monster, and Jake has a tragic past he didn’t know about, and it feels like watching two separate movies. I think the first half of Devour really wants to be the sort of cotton-candy mainstream horror flick where a fun game goes bad and makes people do bad things after doing good things for them, and the second half really wants to be some sort of 80s-inspired cerebral indie film.

Either movie would have been fine on its own, but smushed together into one, both feel unsatisfying and leave more questions than answers.

The rest of this post contains plot details and spoilers, so stop reading if you don’t want to know.

The problem with the first half is that there’s never really any justification for why Jake, Conrad and Dakota would play this game. None of the good things they get are very good, and the bad things are really bad. In Conrad and Dakota’s case, they’re just tortured souls who get more tortured and then they die. It wasn’t super compelling on its own, but fortunately for Devour, there’s the Ackles aspect. I went in expecting see shades of Dean lurking in that performance, but I got the exact opposite as he mourns the loss of his friends while trying to understand what’s happening, and that was far more compelling than murder game.

And then there’s the other half.

Turns out, The Pathway, was a game designed by a high-ranking member of the Occult and possesses people who play it and makes them do horrible things until it finds the one person it can’t possess. That person is the prince of darkness, who was stolen as a baby and raised as a mortal. (Spoiler alert: It’s Jake.)

And that’s an idea that’s interesting enough, but still lacking. Partly because it’s so confusing. It’s unclear why Jake was stolen as a baby. You can handwave through the plothole by saying they must have known (somehow) who he was and thought it would be a bad idea for the son of Satan to be wandering around unchecked. But it’s mostly all just a guess, and what could have been a good film about the nature of family, trying to beat fate and fight evil (or succumbing to it) becomes a bit of  a watered down bore with an ending that feels a lot like a cop-out that could have been good.

More spoilers here: Because after Jake denies the devil, Satan frames him for all the deaths in town. And as he’s being led away in handcuffs, he wonders if it’s his punishment for not going dark or if he really did kill all those people and imagined the Hell connection. And that would have been an awesome “maybe yes, maybe no” way to end if there was anything that made the rest of the movie feel even slightly ambiguous.

And if that’s the alternate direction his nightmares were supposed to be taken as, Devour failed spectacularly.

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