Coma-inducing tale of island intrigue. More Marshmallow Man than Wicker Man.
As a Scotsman it is my duty to have my national pride ritualistically torn asunder on the world stage at regular intervals. Take our recent Euro 2004 qualifier second leg against Holland for example. Keep a hold of that one goal lead. Or keep them to a draw. Or even a 2-1 defeat will get us through. Or we could just let six in without reply and go home sobbing ourselves to sleep on our wee woolly pillows. And the Japanese thought Hiroshima was bad...
Imagine then my dismay as a film-lover when Devil's Gate inexplicably showed up at my local multiplex. Filmed on location in the Shetland Islands, it's the tale of a young Scottish nurse, Rachael (Laura Fraser), living in Edinburgh who goes home to said location in order to visit her supposedly terminally ill father Jake (Tom Bell). For reasons unexplained she is incredibly reluctant to go, and even more determined to leave once she gets there and discovers Jake is in no danger of shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon. The presence of former lover and borderline psychotic Rafe (Callum Blue) is just one more reason to show the islands a clean pair of heels, but after being sufficiently stalled by the conniving pair Rachael misses her plane back and has to wait until the next day.
Up to this point Devil's Gate has a decidedly ropey feel, but there is something of a sense of foreboding brought about by some odd behaviour by the locals and a recurring score that sounds like an idea rejected by Spielberg for the Jaws theme. We keep our fingers crossed then in the hope of a Wicker Man-like turn of events, which at this point the film seems to be promising. Only it doesn't ever deliver.
In fact by this point it's abundantly clear that Devil's Gate is a retarded shambles of near-biblical proportions. I must have missed the Seventh Sign somewhere along the line because here Satan really has unleashed his minions upon an unsuspecting world in what I can only assume to be the first genuine assault on humanity marking the beginning of Armageddon. Yes, dear readers, you've guessed it; the Disko Vitriol Cannon is being prepped for retaliation. Ready yourselves for a systematic disassembly of the joint-worst film of the year.
Let's begin with the acting, shall we? Nobody, and I do mean nobody walks away from this pendulous pair of donkey-bollocks without egg on their face. Leader of the Bad Actor's Resistance Movement is Laura Fraser, a young lady whose acting 'prowess' is rivaled only by the crass incompetence of her director. With a CV boasting the likes of Vanilla Sky and A Knight's Tale, you'd be forgiven for thinking the young lass was trying to erase all traces of credibility with her performance here. Goodness knows what school of acting she attended, but here she conveys a character steeped in childhood distress simply by walking about moaning at everything and everyone with her face tripping her at every step. Hardly an engaging performance or one likely to have the audience rooting for her. Likewise we know Callum Blue's character is a distressed young man because he has really straggly hair and goes around snarling at everything and everyone with his face tripping him at every step.
Roll on the bit players. There's a quote on the one-sheet from Peter Davis of the Shetland Times proclaiming that "Tom Bell plays the father with consummate skill". Peter Davis is clearly a fucking troglodyte. Tom Bell almost takes the bad acting biscuit in this instance, imbuing Jake with all the credibility of a dancing bear prodded into 'performing' by a wrangler wielding an electric cattle prod whilst swigging from a bottle of Absinthe. We're talking here about a man who, when asked to act distressed, degenerates into a state where his eyes are clenched shut and he begins to make "meep-mee-mee-meep" noises like Beaker from the Muppets. In fact his turn (presumably of the stomach kind) is rivaled only by the stupidity of a character called Eagle (played, such as it is, by Roger Ashton-Griffiths), a mute man living in a cave who dresses up in animal skins and somehow manages to run about in people's attics, listening in on just about every major conversation in the movie without ever being noticed.
On top of this nonsense there's also the local policeman, Clem (Patrick Gordon), who is intended to lend some sense of ominous danger to proceedings but ends up providing nearly all the best (and most certainly unintentional) laughs. Witness the sheer stupidity of the greasy-haired lawman having a perfectly sensible conversation with Rafe before deciding quite randomly to shove him off a ladder for no appreciable reason, leading some time later to one of the most laugh-out-loud pathetic lines of the film.
Such a shambles is the script that about fifteen minutes later during a conversation where the two are dressed like Vikings (don't ask) and speaking about Rachael, Rafe addresses Clem with the immortal aside "What we had was special...and don't push me off a ladder again!". Yes, had the script been condensed onto the back of a cereal packet it might actually have read like a couple of half-decent surrealist jokes. As it is, stretching this monstrosity of yak to an arse-numbing feature length has proven to be the worst decision everyone involved will probably ever make, and director/writer Stuart St. Paul should be forced to stand before the United Nations and explain away his despicable crime.
The pacing of the movie is truly a masterclass in almost killing your audience through damaging the nerves in their arse. Take a ridiculously boring concept better suited to a short film, make it forty-five minutes longer than it need be, pad it out with banal dialogue, inane characters and the worst actors you can lay your hands on for twenty pence an hour wages and simply await the results. Seldom have I been so downright offended by the unnecessary length of a film, especially when so little is done to develop the characters in all that spare time. From beginning to end this reviewer felt no shift in emotion for anyone, even upon the 'shock revelation' at the apex (or should that be nadir) of the movie.
Take all of the above points and imagine the most flat, lifeless direction you can imagine from St. Paul, along with a DP who seems intent on pointing his cameras anywhere other than a place that might capture his surrounding's natural beauty, and you just about have the ideal mixture for cinematic suicide. I feel I've written quite enough here, suffice to say this is one hell of a train-wreck of a movie and as a Scottish national I feel some obligation to apologise to any member of the international community who might inadvertently stumble upon it some distant time from now. To clarify another quote from the official press release, Leslie Lowes, a non-specific 'broadcaster' said "As tension built towards the end of Devil's Gate, you could have heard a pin drop...". Yes, Leslie, that'd be the pin I'd stuck in my own eye whilst the rest of the audience slept through this debacle.
Craig Disko has awarded this film 1 out of 4 Fab Weasels.
Callum Blue (Rafe)
Tom Bell (Jake)
Luke Aikman (Matt)