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Friday, March 15, 2019

Devil's Path

On a hiking trail, a popular cruising site for gay men, Noah (Stephen Twardokus) sits waiting, eyeing the men who walk by. He listens to a Walkman, one of the few indications – minus the absence of cell phones – that this film, “Devil’s Path,” is taking place at some point during the 1990s. A passerby, Patrick (JD Scalzo), catches his eye. In his haste to catch up, Noah bumps into two other hikers (Jon Gale and Michael Hampton), who seem more than a little upset by the disturbance.

After Noah initiates a conversation with Patrick, the two men continue down the trail, eventually coming upon a roped off area. A nearby sign, slapped with a campaign sticker proclaiming “Perot for President ’92,” warns of missing hikers, Brandon and Michael. As the two men begin to walk into the roped off section, a park ranger (Steve Callahan) stops them, calling their attention to the sign and warning them of, what is assumed to be, bear attacks. When the ranger is called away on his walkie-talkie, Noah and Patrick decide to ignore his warning and continue on anyway.

Patrick, who’s only looking for a hookup, eventually grows tired of Noah’s continual talk of love and decides it’s best the two part ways. Not wanting to be left alone on the trail in this part of the woods, Noah asks Patrick to wait while he goes to the bathroom. But Noah’s pee break takes too long. Going in search of Noah, Patrick sees a man, one of the two men that Noah previously bumped into, walking by with his hands covered in blood. He finds Noah laying on the side of the trail, a bloodied rock nearby. When the two hear the man returning with his partner, Noah and Patrick flee into the woods in search of an alternate way back. “Devil’s Path,” co-written by lead actor Twardokus and the film’s director Matthew Montgomery, follows the two men as they attempt to flee from their attackers.

As with most thrillers, “Devil’s Path” relies on some coincidental circumstances to drive the story; specifics can’t be gotten into for obvious reasons. Moments and events leave you wondering what the chances are that things would have played out exactly in that way or something would have been in exactly that spot. The script calls for the characters to do things that aren’t believable. Patrick does something at one point that really makes no sense, especially considering the character is an EMT. Twardokus and Montgomery attempt to explain it away, but the explanation is unbelievable. It didn’t seem likely that Patrick would have stuck around Noah that long before losing interest or have even allowed Noah to follow him off in the first place. Also, if this trail is in a national park why are the only people on it single men looking for a hookup? Shouldn’t there be some other hiking groups on at least the main path?

The characters aren’t likeable and, for the most part, the acting isn’t entirely convincing. Although Twardokus and Scalzo each do a good job of showing his character’s weakness – Noah has anxiety attacks and Patrick has asthma – neither actor sells his part. Twardokus is the weaker of the two. Noah is too timid at the start of the movie for his actions at the end to work.

Cinematographer Stephen Tringali doesn’t create a daunting or foreboding atmosphere out of the heavily wooded region the cast gets lost in (Ceiri Torjussen’s score attempts to provide one but is only slightly more successful). Colors are kept focused on those found in nature, mainly greens and browns. The supporting cast is clothed in neutral colors, mostly beige, while Noah and Patrick both wear red. A color which causes them to stand out against the foliage and make the viewer question why neither suggests removing their outer layer to better camouflage themselves from their pursuers. The color makes sense for the two characters thematically but it doesn’t make sense once they are on the run.

It isn’t hard to figure out that more might be going on than meets the eye in “Devil’s Path.” The camera frequently shoots close-ups of the actor’s reactions, implying that we are not dealing with particularly honest people. Astute viewers will probably be able to tell which direction the film is going even if the final destination isn’t exactly what was expected. Those who go with the flow and don’t attempt to figure things out might find the experience more enjoyable.

Released on DVD & VOD on March 5.
(Review by Bret Oswald)

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