In the small rural community of Devil’s Gate, Oregon, a boy and his mother disappear without a trace. FBI Special Agent Daria Francis spearheads the investigating to atone for a regretful previous child disappearance case. She’s accompanied by a local deputy, Colt Salter, to assist her. During her brief investigation upon arriving at Devil’s Gate, Agent Francis comes to the determination that Jackson Pritchard, the father and husband of the missing boy and mother, is directly involved in their sudden disappearance. The investigation turns from a seemingly straight forward, open and shut case to a colossal mystery that’s beyond their comprehension when arriving at the religious dogmatist’s boarded up and disturbing cladded farm house where unearthly forces lay claim to the Pritchard family home for sinister reasons. With one of the beings caged in his basement, the desperate Pritchard seeks an exchange with the creatures he labels as the fallen angels in attempt to regain his wife and son, but as the night falls, trapping Agent Francis and Deputy Salter with Prichard inside the residence, they become surrounded by the fire in the sky creatures aimed to reap not only the world, but their souls.
Like an enigmatic report straight from the non-redacted portions of a nail-biting X-Files case, “Devil’s Gate” is a we are not alone sci-fi horror film from 2017 under the apocalyptic eye of director Clay Staub and co-written by video game plot scriber, Peter Aperlo. The considerably financed project is the first feature film for both filmmakers in their respective roles with Staub having served as an assistant director on other paranormal plotted projects like Zack Snyder’s heavily praised remake of George Romero’s flesh-eating zombie classic, “Dawn of the Dead,” and Matthijs van Heijningen’s underrated “The Thing,” a prequel to John Carpenter’s film of the same title. One quality that we can all can be pleased about is that Staub carries over from his previous experience as a genre filmmaker participate is the use of gore in the “Devil’s Gate” because, honestly just by looking at the cover and reading the plot, the bloodletting expectation was low on the totem pole. Staub doesn’t unload a gratuitous splatterfest of alien and human entrails, but subtly sanctions the right amount of extrasensory chest bursting and finger snapping goo that plays an ill-fated role of circular or motivational circumstances for the characters.
Putting the pieces of the Pritchard mystery together is Agent Francis who is a to the point and tough national law enforcement officer with a bleeding heart complex after her very first assigned case went tragically sour that looms an unexplainable root cause cloud over her straight blonde hair. Desperate to cure her past, Agent Francis rushes into Devil’s Gate, bypassing the notable chicken fried steak meal offered by Deputy Salter upon her tarmac arrival and defying the local Sheriff’s heed to not interview husband Jackson Pritchard, that sorely causes her to land in the virtually the same predicament of just trying to get the right thing done no matter the unclear ancillary evidence. “12 Monkey’s” television star Amanda Schull spearheads the character with the characteristics aforementioned with drab appeal, lacking the emotion and the intensity her character is supposed to be exhibit when trying to solve a case of personal redemption as well as the fear from an higher ominous power that can shoot lightning down from the sky and flash velociraptor toe-claw sized fangs. Colt Salter might be a small time, Podunk deputy, but the born and raised Devil’s Gate officer can match wit with his FBI counterpart. Salter strikes me as a character who doesn’t stray far from home, mentioning various times, in various ways, his parallel path to high school friend Jackson Pritchard. Shawn Ashmore, from Joe Lynch’s “Frozen,” opposites his costar Schull like Mulder and Scully type as well as an all-around good guy who happens to stray from his protocol path once Agent Francis puts her federal fingers into his already investigated investigation. Like his performance in “Frozen,” “X-Men” franchise, and even in FOX’s television thriller “The Following,” Ashmore is a pretty solid actor, showing a range of emotion that transcends him from easygoing deputy to mortality fearing when mankind’s on the verge of extinction comes into the equation. An equally solid performance by Milo Ventimiglia, who recently starred in “Creed II,” really sells the crazy portray by Jackson Pritchard, a God-fearing man with a long lineage of misunderstood family heritage that leads him to the uncanny bombshell that has been bestowed upon his family farm. Ventimiglia, in his roughest, toughest country twang, creates such an anxiety-riddled and frantic character that unravelling his fate is not too clear which is refreshing to be able to retain mystery to a role as we can kind of figure out how Agent Francis and Deputy Salter when fair in the end game. Rounding out the cast is Bridget Regan (“John Wick”), Javier Botet (“Slender Man”), and “Star Trek: The Next Genergation’s” Jonathan Frakes, still sporting that iconic beard even if it has grayed, as the town Sheriff.
In spite of some really cool visuals, especially of the man underneath the mask, Javier Botet, inside a ghoulishly white extraterrestrial suit that only his elongated and thin body (and perhaps also Doug Jones’) could snuggly fit into, “Devil’s Gate” tells a narrative that hails from a lot of re-spun material. Whether intentional or not, viewers more than likely won’t be able to help themselves as they’ll eagerly point to the television screen and say, ““Independence Day” did that first,” or exclaim, “didn’t Donald Sutherland star in the same kind of thing???” I know I did. However, Staub and Aperlo don’t completely ape the concepts that surely haven’t inspiring them, making the effort more endearing, and visually crafted a well-blended plot into an enjoyable and captivating story; a story that has been mostly devoid of underlining messages and symbolism other than the themes of religious zealots are extremely bad for the world and living with past regrets can be hazardous for your health if not properly accessed. “Devil’s Gate” focuses more directly on just entertaining another version of visitors from another world and how those no-so-little-green-men play an assimilating role into humanity.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Devil’s Gate” onto a region 4 DVD presented in widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The vast Midwestern landscape with the foreboding rolling clouds stretches from top to bottom with an exact sharpness and crisp from the digital picture. The textures in the broad, yet barren-esque fields look especially detailed, more so with the wind and brownish-yellow color. Speaking of color, the hue is a filter of shadowed purple and on a sepia side that works the dread atmosphere. The English 5.1 Dolby audio track has ample range and depth. Lightning strikes boom equally from the five channels, alien shrieks trembles through, and the dialogue is not obstructed. Surprisingly, there are no bonus features with this release as the Stateside counterpart even has a trailer in the extras. There isn’t a static menu either as the film goes right into play feature mode. c
Ethan Walker is a brilliant scientific engineer, though he doesn’t look it with his long fire-hued beard and pot-belly midsection, but Walker, along with his colleague, believe to have accomplished the impossible: teleportation. When Walker decides to try his machine on himself, the realization of something terribly wrong overwhelms him. Walker didn’t invent a teleporter, he accidentally constructed a time machine, sending himself six months into a grim future where his wife and sister have been brutally murdered and he’s the sole prime suspect. The only way to make sense of the future and to solve the crime against him is to travel back to the past multiple times to unravel a sinister plot and stop the murder of those close to him.
To simply and conventionally tagline “Counter Clockwise,” George Moise’s 2015 directorial debut can easily be described as Terry Gilliam meets David Fincher. Part sci-fi thriller part dark comedy, the adventure of Ethan’s misadventures ingeniously signifies a harsh outlook on the saltiness of our predetermined universe while encountering outrageous and weird characters along the time warp. Ethan, no matter what he does or how he does it, has to use the accidental time machine to thwart the brutal death of his wife and sister and while his reasoning sounds fairly comical being the groundwork of what Albert Einstein calls madness, on-screen it’s rather heartbreaking and tragic to see this guy, an everyday looking joe, desperately attempt to deconstruct, from the unsolicited help of his future selves, a dastardly plot that will destroy everything he holds dear.
Penned also by George Moise, based off a story by brother Walter Moise, along with the film’s lead star, Ethan himself, Michael Kopelow, “Counter Clockwise” will change the way critics will perceive time travel storylines by not as a means of zipping back only once to change the forsaken past, but as a respawning Shakespearean tale of tragedy in order to continue to amend a hapless situation. A respawned Super Mario had more luck saving Princess Peach through the thicket of Koopa Troopas and the fire breathing Bowser. Though the character Ethan repeats his voyage, the way “Counter Clockwise” is written doesn’t convolute itself in the repetition, staging clues as a window into beyond the present and generating eerie and problematic, if seriously disturbed, episodes that doesn’t give Ethan a minute from tirelessly being objective. Combine those elements with George Moise’s neurotic direction and the result seizes to capture not only science fiction aficionados, but movie enthusiasts of every category in this genre-breaking feature. From the first moment of the opening scene, a strong familiar inkling of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” washes over you; the subtle hum of machinery, the slow panning from side-to-side, the very soft touch George Moise applies is uncanny and so endearingly respectful that the direction doesn’t feel like an absolute rip of Scott’s 1979 space horror classic.
Kopelow is the centerpiece that glues the story whole. As Ethan, Kopelow’s gentle giant approach is such a stark contrast to the surrounding darkness that has embodied nearly every other location and character, even his lip flapping, hard loving mother. Extreme opposite on the polar spectrum is voice actor Frank Simms as Roman, head of major corporation aiming to steal pioneered technology from Ethan at any cost. Simms’ talent has two settings in this film, hot and cold; his sound binary method works to composite a character so reasonably rational that when Roman snaps, a trickle of pee squeezes out and runs down your leg at his abrupt and menacing counter personality. The rest of the cast follows suit with pinpoint precision on their coinciding characters and even the eccentric cameo performances were otherworldly good from Chris Hampton’s relishing water fountain patron to Marty Vites one-eyed creepy landlord. Ethan’s landed in bizarre world that hums a very familiar tune in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” while the amount of downbeat content spurs moments of gritty David Fincher thrillers, especially in one particular scene with the brawny New Jersey native Bruno Amato being the ultimate bad guy henchman by raping a dead woman for spite and for pleasure. The cast fills out with Devon Ogden, Kerry Knuppe, Joy Rinaldi, Alice Rietveld, and Caleb Brown.
The Sex Scene Crew production, “Counter Clockwise,” is not an effects driven project. The indie sci-fi film relies on the trio of coordination efforts in refined editing, camera angles, and practical effects to deliver the intended message. Like I said before, George Moise is neurotic, providing the attention and detail to every scene as if a climatic money shot. Value is placed in the story and in the direction rather than diluting and cheapening with overrated, big budget computer generated special effects that can snap a film’s heart and soul like a thin twig. The biggest effect comes in the form of a composite, placing two Ethans in the same scene and working action off each other. Even the time traveling sequences are a basic edit that’s well timed with simple lighting techniques, gentrifying low budget films more toward a respectable level of filmmaking.
Artsploitation Films’ DVD release of “Counter Clockwise” is an edgy rip in space time continuum sci-fi thriller presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio option. Image quality pars well with modern releases and the same can be said about the audio, especially with the prevalent dialogue. Aside from conventional specs, Moise adds a sensory surplus to stimulate sight and sound hell-bent to strike an unnerving chord strummed simultaneously with providing an awesomely surreal effect. The DVD contains bonus features include “The Making of Counter Clockwise featurette, going behind the scenes of pre-production, production, and post-production. There are also five deleted scenes with commentary and a trio of commentary tracks that include the director, director and editor, and director and co-writer. “Counter Clockwise” is 91 minutes of time hopping suspense, packed with adversity and pitch black humor from start to finish and finish to start.