I know, I know – too much found footage in my list. So what? It’s my list. Neener-neener-neener. Okay, now that I’ve got the juvenile behavior out of my system, I’ll just start talking about this movie. Devil’s Backbone, Texas had me for about 89% of the movie. I mean, I really like how everything was set up, from the documentary framing narrative, the acting, the cinematography, just about everything. But then it done fucked up in the last fifteen minutes. Well, okay, to be fair, the last two minutes or one and half minutes are what really pissed me off. So much good faith was wrecked at that point. But I’ll start from the beginning.
The movie is about Jake Wall and his family’s attempt to reconcile the past with their reclusive and often abusive late father, Bert. He’s been deceased for a few years and one of his sons, Jake, thinks that he should document not only the ash scattering ceremony the family has planned, but to also investigate some claims made by his deceased father. Bert claimed for years that the property that he cultivated a life upon, a homestead on the Devil’s Backbone, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country, right outside of Wimberley, Texas, was haunted with some sort of energy or spirit. What is cool about this mockumentary, which it is, but it’s also a good portion of real documentary about certain parts of the Wall family. Now, I would gather that a good portion was invented for the cameras, but there is some interesting footage shot before the actual Bert Wall passed away. From what I can gather he passed away in 2010, and was a writer among other pursuits in his life. So I’d like to believe that this movie was a collaboration between his family and him that eventually came to fruition. So many parts worked for me, especially the raw emotion that the family displays on camera during their interviews.
A lot of the creep factor comes from the way that Bert Wall, whose claim to fame had been an appearance on Unsolved Mysteries, had some abandoned property that is right creepy. The footage that he supposedly shot before passing away, and the footage that looks to either be keen recreations or really well timed intentional footage from his life, pops up in the film to give us a sense of reality to these claims. There are some sequences with Bert talking about his supernatural experiences living on the property, and even some very strange footage of him working with animals on his farm, all of whom eventually died off. Jake makes good use of these pieces of footage to set the stage for his investigation into his father’s claims.
Jake then enlists the help of some lifelong friends to assist in the investigation and eventual scattering of the ashes. They are all keen to help, but as the filming progresses, they notice a progression of odd occurrences, combined with erratic behavior exhibited by Jake, all of which causes tension among the group. There is even a family member who is seemingly harmed by an unknown source, possibly an entity that scared her to the point of injury. And all of these revelations are really well done, as is the interaction between the friends and Jake. Some might be friends or family, but all do a decent job of acting for the part.
Now, I will not spoil the movie entirely, but I will say, as before, all of this goodwill fostered with me as the viewer is shit on with the last few minutes of the movie. Some fantastic tension is built for the group, they are at their wits end, seemingly stranded on the property, lost, scared, and a whole bunch of other shit. They even think that they have lost their friend Jake, literally and figuratively. And I was along for the ride. Everything played out realistically enough for me, and even though it was following some well established tropes, it really had fun with them. Until the last minute or so of the movie. And I will stop here and just say, “shame on you.” This ending sucked. So. Hard. And it’s been done so many other times by so many better filmmakers. It was too ambitious and the creatives were out of their element with this type of ending, in my opinion. It was like letting the JV players onto the field in the championship game – not developed enough to make that kind of leap, so don’t do it!
But I will say again that I did enjoy nearly every minute of the ride and felt satisfied with the overall experience. And again, I’m a fan of the found footage genre, so I cut it some major slack as well. If you’re looking for another found footage movie that has some down-home charm, give Devil’s Backbone, Texas a chance to get inside your head.