I’m breathing super hard after watching The Devil’s Well. The first half (pay attention to that) was incredibly unsettling and genuinely creepy. It mirrors The Blair Witch Project and The Poughkeepsie Tapes in such a disturbing way, and I’m thrilled that this was the film I started the 2018 review season with. The Devil’s Well begins as a standard documentary, chronicling the events surrounding a missing woman after she and her husband went on a paranormal investigation involving a random well at the bottom of an abandoned establishment. Her disappearance kickstarts a firestorm of events, including her husband’s questioning in the case, that ultimately leads to a new team of paranormal investigators visiting the well one year after she mysteriously showed up on the metaphorical milk cartons of New England. The way the documentary portion of the film is carried out, independent flaws and all, are far and away one of the most genuine attempts at authenticity that I’ve seen in a while; so much so that I was moved to a Google search to see if The Devil’s Well was a real documentary or a feature film pretending to be a documentary. Yeah, it was that good. Enthralling, terrifying and layered with believe-ability.
Besides the overarching question of “where is Karla Marks”, The Devil’s Well poses other questions that pander to victims and survivors of paranormal encounters. How do you come to terms with what happened to you? More importantly, how do you convince the police and law officers that you are the victim of an otherworldly attack? These questions and these emotions are expanded on throughout the first half of the movie, and they’re coupled with original scores that showcase the proper mood at every single plot adjustment; and it all results in powerful, raw performances from the cast members lending their commentary to the documentary. A story that was successfully scary, above average production values, emotionally devastating backing tracks AND honest-to-god acting? That’s unheard of in an independent found footage flick! Even little bits and pieces of the film, in between the scenes that were supposed to grab your attention, were worthwhile. I think back to, specifically, how calm and collected Karla Marks was when left alone in the basement – as she would be as a proper investigator – and the audio clip of the many voices yelling out in terror. I was ready to write this one off with a solid 10 out of 10 score… but then, something tragic happened.
The Devil’s Well switched from a Buzzfeed worthy documentary to a common place found footage flick, and then I was the one yelling out in terror. Wrong decision. Wrong. Wrong Wrong. Wrong Wrong. Just no. The level of movie magic – the combined heightened levels of mystery, suspense, claustrophobia, discomfort and real life horror – were stripped away in place of a narrative story involving a new paranormal investigation team and the missing woman’s husband returning to the well a year to the date of her disappearance. Again, I assert that this was the wrong decision because we’ve seen this story a hundred times before, and no one is ever going to reach the same success rate as Grave Encounters. When The Devil’s Well makes this style and plot switch, it’s still a decent movie and keeps with the same quality of production, but it loses the feeling that it could possibly be a real documentary on a real life supernatural inclined disappearance, and that kills the mood and replaces it with one that’s less effective. As an invested viewer and a die-hard horror fan, this hurt me. Because I was so ready to champion the fuck out of this film. I wasn’t too much of a fan of the ending, either, but at least the writers gave a more definitive answer than the other titles in its category. However, had they kept it as a full documentary and not included the narrative… this would have been iconic.
The Devil’s Well was shot under Invasive Image in a joint effort between Kurtis M. Spieler and Nicholas Papazoglou, with the duo juggling the responsibilities of writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer. Starring cast members include Bryan Manley Davis, Chris Viemeister, David Alexander, Kristen Seavey, Jon Gregory, Lauren Sowa, Kurtis M. Spieler, Ann-Marie Mueschke and Tony Del Bono. As much as the movie let me down, I have to give it props for what it did accomplish and for actually scaring me for a decent amount of time. Find it on DVD courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing on January 23, 2018. Watch the first half with the lights off and the second half with a big bowl of pop corn. Final Score: 7.5 out of 10.