From writer-director Clay Staub—an award-winning commercial director, and the the second unit director of genre films, including The Thing and Dawn of the Dead—Devil’s Gate was one of the more chilling genre-benders to premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Premiering in the Midnight section, the film follows a Gone Girl-type investigation into the disappearance of a mother (Bridget Regan) and child in a small, ominously-named North Dakota town. When all signs point to the woman’s husband, Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), as the culprit, FBI Special Agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull) and a local deputy (Shawn Ashmore) enter Pritchard’s farmhouse basement, and into a world beyond their understanding.
“The idea here is that I wanted to create something where the tropes were familiar to people, but then we would be twisting those completely on their heads, and take you down a road that, when you start the film, where you end the film is completely different,” Staub said of the film which he co-wrote with Peter Aperlo, joining stars Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Bridget Regan and Shawn Ashmore at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio.
A 24-hour film shot out on a farm in a remote area, Devil’s Gate provided a bounty of challenges for its actors, beginning with the idea of achieving a certain tonal and emotional consistency with characters operating in real time, within a short time frame. “We were lucky that, because we were on the farm, and then there was an interior set, that we got to shoot fairly chronologically,” Ashmore said. “Obviously, you bounce back and forth a little bit, but on a short-scale time frame where you’re telling a story like that, to keep the emotion, the mood consistent is always a challenge for actors.”
“Every single one of these characters comes into [the story] in a very different place from where we end, and we need to make sure we track that, in a way that isn’t heightened, and too fast for a 24-hour film, but at the same time, we want to keep the pace,” Schull added. “That’s a challenge, making sure you’ve tracked in your head where you are, from Point A to Point B, and then also organically making it to the end, where you know we have the luxury of a film, knowing that it’s finite.”
Viewers of Devil’s Gate may be interested in knowing that while Milo Ventimiglia was “the last piece to the puzzle” in the casting of the film, he took on the project long before he ever knew who Jack Pearson was, delighting in being able to portray two husbands—Jack and Jackson—who are so remote from one another. “That’s the fun of acting—you’re a chameleon, you get to play a lot of different parts. Sometimes they’re the same name, but they’re completely different characters,” the actor said. “It’s the exploration of a person and their identity, whether you’re a mother looking for your child, or in law enforcement, looking for an answer to a situation, or a husband looking for answers to generations of mind-battering that possibly he had gone through.”
To hear more from the stars of Devil’s Gate and writer/director Clay Staub—who describes the joy taken in building his sets from scratch, out in an area without Wi-Fi or cell service—click above.
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