With the advent of the Space Race in the 1950’s, the notion of extraterrestrial life has since become an enormous contributing theme in the dimension of science fiction film. Popularized by titles including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Wars, and Alien, the genre still remains iconic to this day. But the notion of being invaded or abducted by horrific beings from another world has lost much of its potency in the recent decade of cinema. Apart from 2013’s Dark Skies, the alien-abduction film has largely faded off into deep space. In an attempt to counter this recession of alien-based horror, Jeremy Berg and John Portanova take a bold leap back into forgotten territory with The Device.
Opening at an old family cabin, sisters Abby and Rebecca (Angela DiMarco and Kate Alden) reunite in the wake of their mother’s death. After scattering their mother’s ashes, the sisters discover a spherical object amidst some unidentifiable wreckage. Fascinated by the discovery, Abby’s husband Calvin (David S. Morgan) brings the object back home with them against Rebecca’s objections. From there, Abby and her family undergo a series of bizarre occurrences.
Much like Berg and Portanova’s The Invoking, the story for The Device isn’t revolutionary in terms of pure originality; but just as with The Invoking, this abduction story’s ambiguity remains the film’s strong point. Rarely are explanations outright given to accommodate for the bizarre events occurring in Abby and Calvin’s lives, and rarely are they necessary to keep things interesting or disturbing. The silent and inanimate nature of the Device itself — for instance — serves as a tangible artifact of discomfort for the audience.
As far as scares go, Berg and Portanova generally steer clear of using jump scares to incite audience reactions. Instead, The Device leans more towards building a gradual sense of unease and dread. The calls Abby receives from Rebecca’s therapist, for instance, are particularly unnerving thanks to a stern yet enigmatic tone.
Some of the film’s more memorable moments are its nightmare/hallucination sequences. These sequences are well executed, utilizing snapshot-like editing that leaves both Abby and the audience questioning reality. With that said, these dream sequences do feel familiar, not so much in their construction or content but rather their mere presence. In horror films, dreams don’t often progress the story, their purpose instead to set-up and justify false scares. Although Abby’s dreams feel intended more to foreshadow the film’s ending, they nonetheless feel expected.
Effects — both practical and digital — are often a double-edged sword, either enhancing or ruining a film’s plausibility or lasting appeal. Luckily, those viewers who favor special effect will get more out of The Device than with they might have gotten from The Invoking. Not near the level of high-end productions of the genre, The Device‘s effects are still convincing enough to satisfy audiences hungry for visual reward while still maintaining the film’s murky mood.
The Device may not reinvent the UFO, but as a whole it stands as a thankful reprieve in an era where invisible and menacing spirits dominate horror. Viewers who enjoyed The Invoking for its open-ended structure but yearned for a more apparent supernatural element will be pleased with this probe into human paranoia.