The Devil’s Well, 2018.
Written and Directed by Kurtis Spieler.
Starring Bryan Manley Davis, Chris Viemeister, David Alexander, Anne-Marie Mueschke.
Karla Marks mysteriously vanishes while conducting a paranormal investigation with her husband. A year after her disappearance, a group of paranormal investigators attempt to uncover the truth about her disappearance.
While watching The Devil’s Well, I couldn’t help but think back to one of my favourite indie horror films, Lake Mungo. The two share many similarities: they both centre around the disappearance/death of a young woman, they are both presented in a mockumentary format, and they both rely on subtlety to build tension and very rarely use conventional jump scares. Although The Devil’s Well’s ending didn’t hit me with the same haunting realisation that Mungo’s climax did, I still couldn’t quite escape the lingering sense of dread it left me with.
The film follows a group of paranormal investigators as they explore the Devil’s Well, a hotspot for paranormal activity that some believe to be the gateway to hell itself. Specifically, they are investigating on behalf of Bryan Marks (Bryan Manley Davis), whose girlfriend Karla (Anne-Marie Mueschke) disappeared a year earlier. Though the premise is far from original, the individual characters that make up the group are played with enough charm and charisma to elevate the story above the standards of your average found-footage flick. Each member has their own identity that extends beyond their mere role in the team. For example, their head of technology is also a sceptic and often keeps the group in check when they jump to irrational conclusions. Furthermore, the inclusion of Bryan into the team creates an interesting dynamic as some of the group’s members are under the suspicion that he is in fact responsible for the disappearance of Karla.
There are moments, however, where this dynamic is played a little too on the nose. At one point, Bryan becomes aware that one of the group is armed with a handgun. When he asks why, he is told that haunted locations often attract a lot of cultists and vagrants, and that force is usually required to keep them at bay. So far so good. But then he is told that the gun may be used against him, because the group don’t trust him. Moments like this are few and far between, but when they occur, they really do shatter the illusion of reality that the rest of the film maintains so well.
The Devil’s Well also has a pretty consistent issue with sloppy editing and generally amateurish filmmaking. Text frequently gets cut off by the edge of the screen, and there are some interesting framing choices. Fortunately, these problems should do little to hinder audiences’ enjoyment of the film. It’s supposed to be an amateur’s documentary, after all, so most of the sloppy filmmaking can be considered as in keeping with the film’s narrative.
If there’s one thing The Devil’s Well does right, it’s build tension. Although very little actually happens for the first half of the movie, it feels as if danger lurks around every corner. This atmosphere is created through a combo of subtle, bass driven music, and shots that linger on nothingness just a little too long. Unfortunately, when the climax comes, it falls short of the greatness that the rising action promised. Not dreadfully so, but enough to be disappointing.
The Devil’s Well is an amateurish, borderline generic horror mockumentary. Nevertheless, it’s hugely enjoyable. Though it never quite reaches its true potential, its ability to create tension is incredible, and its characters are three-dimensional enough to warrant your attention.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor