We meet a young man named Noah who is in a large wooded park on a mountain. He likes the woods because he feels safe there as opposed to being around people who he deems to be ruthless and harm others for no reason. He’s next to a tree when he catches a glimpse of another young man walking on a path in the park. Noah approaches him and strikes up a conversation. It turns out that this is a popular pick-up place for gay men. Noah and this other man, named Patrick, go on a walk on the path talking until they come up on a roped off area. It appears that men have been disappearing along the park’s Devil’s Path. Patrick is adventurous so they both go over the roped off area. During a few moments when they are separated Patrick looks for Noah and finds him on the ground wounded. When it appears that Noah’s attackers are hunting for them they both go on the run off any marked paths in the hopes of losing their pursuers, and eventually making it out of the park. During this time they start to learn about each other, and Patrick comes to learn that Noah wasn’t simply there to meet other guys on Devil’s Path.
This thriller is somewhat uneven in the beginning. The first 18 minutes are very slow. In fact they are so slow it actually feels longer than only 18 minutes. However, once the tension starts with the attack on Noah it starts to build slowly. The tension doesn’t build evenly rather it happens in stages that are perfectly placed as to keep the viewer invested in the movie. Something else that is unusual is that most horror or thrillers of this nature usually have your protagonist, or your basic good guy, who is trying to survive against all odds. What makes Devil’s Path different is that neither character is particularly likable. They each have their good moments, taking turns while the other is just simply unpleasant. As the movie progresses their roles would switch and the previously looked upon nice guy becomes rather ugly with the other man becoming the sympathetic character. What also make this movie intriguing are the secrets that are revealed during the course of their journey. We start to learn things about them that completely alter the tone into something rather more menacing and even possibly disturbing.
Writer/director Matthew Montgomery delivers a movie that at first almost had me turning it off out of near boredom, but once Noah is attacked does Montgomery then builds on this like the small beginnings of the eventual avalanche. It is then we see how he has also crafted a very clever story so that when the big reveal finally happens it turns out to be nothing that could have ever been expected.
The other element that helps this movie is its two principal actors. While they play unpleasant characters, their acting is nonetheless superb. Starting with J.D. Scalzo as Patrick, he gives a performance that almost makes you believe that he really is an almost loathsome and shallow man who is only interested in getting his kicks. There is a comfortable naturalness in his portrayal of Patrick that makes it extremely easy to dislike the character. Without giving anything away, he has one specific scene in the last 20 minutes of the movie that was so intense it practically left me breathless. Then there is Stephen Twardokus, who in addition to acting is also a co-writer along with Montgomery for this movie. His performance is deliberately all over the place. Noah is a character with layers, and with each removal of a layer reveals a new aspect to his personality. During the movie’s climax there is a moment of pure emotion from Twardokus that almost makes you feel sorry for him, despite being the unlikable character we’ve come to know him as. Where Twardokus pulled that from is anyone’s guess, but he delivers 100% of it and was able to literally change my opinion of Noah, which requires some pretty strong acting chops to deliver those types of goods.
Devil’s Path is not your typical big studio thriller film, which is probably a good thing. Once the momentum kicks in it starts to become clear how smart this movie really is. A good thriller doesn’t just need runaway action to make it work, which is something that too many of the big studios exploit. Any good movie, including a thriller, requires strong characters to bring the story to life and to allow the viewer to become invested in. The independent market has allowed for Montgomery to make this movie according to his vision as well as with the cast of his choosing. Instead of a potential big studio blunder what we have here is a thriller that does feel as if it takes forever to get going, but once it does it starts to hold you, and as the movie progresses the hold becomes tighter and tighter, and when the movie delivers its final emotional beats it then simply takes your breath away.
For the manner in which this movie kept me from breathing, Devil’s Path receives 4 out of 5 inhalers.
Devil’s Path is produced by Proteus Pictures, distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures, and is available today on Amazon.