Hi folks… the film-guy formerly known as Precious Roy, here. I'm back for a one-off to cover a set visit I did this past May for the horror film ALONG CAME THE DEVIL 2, from the DeVan Clan (Jason and Heather DeVan, and their two kids, Tristan and Cassius)! First, if you haven't seen McEric's brilliant interview with Bruce Davison, check it out here.
A QUICK REVIEW
As sequels go, ALONG CAME THE DEVIL 2 is a big improvement on the first one. Some of the acting, direction, and interactions with the younger cast are significantly better. The writing has also improved, becoming much simpler to understand. The production value in the film looks like a significant rise in funding, as some rather difficult shots were managed on an indie budget.
The film’s big stumbling block is that the plot and family connections can be a little confusing, and is a sin inherited from the first film's struggles. We never really get a clear sense of the family, we don't even get a name for them in the series, and it makes some of the relationships between characters difficult to track. As well, the titular Devil spends much time offscreen, more felt than observed, while we wait for the action to begin.
As for the film's biggest strength, that lies in the acting. Bruce Davison is incredibly effective in his return to the role of Reverend Michael. He's playing a man facing something infinitely bigger than he ever thought he'd face, something that has changed his religious devotion from one of faith to one of fact, and dealing with more than he can ever hope to handle. Much of the movie, there's a sense that Reverend Michael is one small push from the abyss.
Laura Wiggins is wonderful as Jordan, our protagonist, on the search for her missing sister (possessed and imprisoned by Reverend Michael in the first film). She has to enter the story in a bad mood, and that’s usually something that damages the audience’s relation to a protagonist (see every American Horror Story season for details), but Wiggins is interesting enough to keep us engaged beyond a bad mood into how she will get drawn into the occult danger we know is coming for her.
Unsurprisingly, Mark Ashworth does a great job as Mark, the abusive father trying for a shot at redemption. Even as we see him start to buckle under the strain of possession, he remains someone we want to survive and to save his family. And-- spoiler alert-- he's very convincing as a menacing demon.
Finally, Cassius DeVan makes his first leading role as Xander, the young son of Mark and his new wife Karen (half-sibling to Jordan). His character is at first a misdirection, but when terror actually begins to take over, he and Lisa (as Xander and Jordan) have great brother-sister chemistry as they fight to survive a night of demonic attack. I hope this film is the beginning of many for this family.
THE SET VISIT
When I was five, my parents took a trip across the U.S. in a Winnebago. One of our stops was Meteor Crater, Arizona, the giant asteroid impact crater where Jeff Bridges’ STARMAN alien would one day escape to his home planet. As luck would have it, that day, Jan Michael Vincent and Jackie Earle Haley were filming a scene from the sci-fi film DAMNATION ALLEY… and we had unwittingly stumbled onto a location shoot.
Although I didn’t know Jan Michael Vincent from Adam, I most certainly knew Jackie Earle Haley (as Kelly from THE BAD NEWS BEARS), but I was likely too young to make the connection between a person I knew from a movie and a person I was seeing in real life—I was at the age where the Tooth Fairy’s existence was still a bit in flux. I’d like to think that Meteor Crater moment is where I first fell in love with the movies… but I barely recall the moment, although I believe my Dad immortalized it on Super 8 film back then.
I have since spent years doing PA work for my brother, a short filmmaker in Atlanta, and being on small film sets as a caterer—short films, fifteen minutes features. But I’ve never got the experience of being on a true, full-length indie as a reporter during the year I spent as a features guy with AICN, despite living in Atlanta for several years. When Dannie offered me a chance to go see the DeVan Clan (Jason and Heather DeVan, their kids Tristan and Cassius, and their friends) film a scene from the sequel to ALONG CAME THE DEVIL out on location in Flowery Branch, I jumped at it.
I was really poorly prepared for this and wasn’t able to see the first film before coming to see the sequel being made, so I was going in blind on the plot. The PR folks really wanted me to do interviews, but I was hoping to keep things just to a set visit, so I could concentrate as much as possible on the content I was experiencing and the DeVan as filmmakers, without having to be intimidated or dazzled by the fame and previous work of actors I like. (And I like so many actors, that it tends to be my downfall as an impartial observer) So I told them not to worry about bringing me interviews, mostly because that sounded like way too much work when I just wanted to geek out on the set! They were keeping it as tentative, and I took that to me Probably No, which would just make things easier.
With some help from their associate producer, Michelle Moreland, I managed to find my way to the farmland that was their location shoot. As I arrived, they were planning some driving shots on the road just outside the farm. Their location shoot was bustling with crew members focused on their work, but genuinely happy to be doing their jobs... smiling, laughing, having fun at what they love.
I strolled around the set, observing as sun showers wandered in and out, wondering what this would mean for their production. Inside a large stable, they’d set up all the comforts of home: a craft services table… a catered meal cooking up… a video village. In the office space for the stable, they’d set up a costuming department. Upstairs in the loft of the barn, creepy Halloween memorabilia served to keep the atmosphere spooky and in keeping with a certain vibe. Even the bathroom had a spooky motif.
Once I got back downstairs and into their setup, the PA announced they were setting me up with their lead the day I arrived, with no equipment and no research! I knew only one of the actors going in: Bruce Davison, whom I, of course, recognized from X-MEN. But, confession time: I had got the names mixed up, and I actually thought Bruce GREENWOOD. Greenwood would have been fun to meet, but I wouldn’t have felt the least bit intimidated by him. Instead, I was about to meet WILLARD and Senator Robert Kelly from X-MEN. Which, to geeky me, was more than a bit daunting.
While I was waiting for Bruce to pull up, I got a chance to meet Mark Ashworth, who plays Mark, the abusive and horrid father of the daughters that each of the ALONG CAME THE DEVIL films focuses on. Mark came to America in 1997 and was beautifully placed to become a working actor when Georgia opened itself up to the film industry five years later. We bonded over our mutual love of English soccer, and talked about his experience as a Brit in the Atlanta film scene. Turns out, Mark is kind of a big deal in horror circles.
After a few minutes, Bruce Davison himself turned up. He wasn’t even meant to be filming that day, but had been killing time at a hotel in Atlanta in case of reshoots, so they brought him out to the set to meet with me. Bruce is a really warm, accepting, generous soul, as you might imagine him to be. He brought me to the nearby country gazebo and we just started chatting about his career and his favorite memories… We talked about his family, particularly his talented daughter who had made a very clever film trailer with her best friend about their adventures together. As he reflected on his experiences in Georgia since the film industry boom here, he touched on his long friendship with the dearly departed Scott Wilson, of THE WALKING DEAD, which I had not been aware of.
We talked about his role in both films, Father Michael, and having seen the completed film, I wish I could have asked him about a scene from ALONG CAME THE DEVIL 2, where his character does a spectacularly smart thing in a horror film, which is an unfortunately rare occurrence in the genre. As luck would have it, I spoke with the director Jason DeVan about it later, and he informed me that the scene came out of Davison’s reaction to that moment, and was improvised by the director and the actors. Whenever Davison spoke about Jason and Heather DeVan, I got a sense of the DeVan Clan being a great family environment to be a creative. Nurturing.
Once we got some of the plot points about the film out of the way, I asked him some of my usual interview questions, which I am sure he found mindlessly boring (to have yet another interviewer pull details out of such a long career), but Bruce is such a warm talker that he made something good out of it. As many actors do, Davison has trouble watching himself in films— and is far less interested in the business aspect of what he’s doing than the craft itself. “I’ve often referred to myself as a ‘grateful pessimist’…. the most important part is the work.”
For any element of self-doubt, Davison struck me as being very proud of his filmography, and he should be. In particular, his favorite film of his own is LONGTIME COMPANION, about a group of gay friends at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and the part he is most recognized for: Senator Robert Kelly in X-MEN and X-MEN UNITED (X2). I got the chance to compliment Davison’s take on Mystique in X-MEN UNITED, where he presented his body in a slightly different way than he had during the first one.
He told me a story I promised to take to my grave (or at least until I see it in his autobiography) about his X-Men shoot that had me laughing to tears. And he brought up an outtake of Stan Lee’s first Marvel cameo, in X-Men, where a naked, blubbery Senator Kelly is strolling up on the beach, next to the hot dog vendor Stan is engaging, and an ad-libbing Stan: “Hey, Senator Kelly… you look like you could use a wiener!” Classic!
I had actually never seen LONGTIME COMPANION; it was on that nebulous list of films I’d always meant to watch and somehow managed not to see. I think at the time LONGTIME COMPANION came out (1989/1990), I was somewhat homophobic, so three decades and a few complete reads of AND THE BAND PLAYED ON probably gave me much better context for what was happening. I recently made good on a promise to finally watch it, and I’m glad I did; Davison is great in it, as are Campbell Scott and a baby-young Dermot Mulroney.
We talked about some of his favorite films that inspired him to become an actor: Ulzana's Raid, with Burt Lancaster… KING SOLOMON’S MINES… COMES A HORSEMEN, with Richard Farnsworth…. CITIZEN KANE… David Lean films… we also got into some brief banter about GAME OF THRONES, which was in the beginning of the final season, and the entire cast was into, throwing viewing parties for it. We talked about how sharp Bella Ramsey was as a young actress and what Lyanna Mormont’s chances of survival to the end of the series might be.
When my time with Bruce was up, he very gamely took the obligatory pic with the writer and Michelle and Heather worked to connect me with more of the film’s cast. I spent some time talking to Laura Wiggins about her character, Jordan. I tried to get her to tell me if she represented the film’s Final Girl, but the confusion that caused informed me pretty quickly that the DeVans didn’t buy into horror tropes just because they’re there and had something else in mind. I also met Cassius DeVan, who I wish I’d met after viewing the film itself, as he was brilliant. He and Laura have great chemistry once the film begins to put them together in events. His older brother Tristan stopped by and I discovered he was the architect behind this trailer for the original film, ALONG CAME THE DEVIL (see below).
Producer Heather DeVan (Sarah Winbourne in both films) brought Director Jason DeVan in and together we discussed their community and the film they were working on. He talked about ALONG CAME THE DEVIL as their take on THE EXORCIST, but promised that ALONG CAME THE DEVIL 2 was more akin to THE SHINING then to THE EXORCIST. When I told him how impressed I was with one of their trailers, the DeVans beamed and informed me that Tristan, their oldest son, had cut it. I’m including it here because I was very impressed with what he’d done with the film here. When I spoke with Tristan, he confirmed what I’d already expected: the boys both play the horror game Dead By Daylight.
Chris: So let me open with a quick fun anecdote that I hope will amuse you both—the (opening scene, redacted for spoilers) caused me a sleepless night last night. So well done.
Heather: That’s great to hear.
Jason: That’s kind of what we are going for. (laughs) But, yes, we wanted to start this one off with a bang!
Chris: I feel like there’s a lot of HALLOWEEN and THE SHINING in this film, both from the opening tracking shot's nod to and subversion of the original HALLOWEEN, to the plot direction alcohol has on letting in the demons. Is this a conscious subtext?
Jason: You are right on point. We definitely wanted to pay homage to THE SHINING and HALLOWEEN with some of the look and feel of our film. I'm a huge Carpenter fan and feel some of the shots he does and we also did let the camera guide your eyes-- which can lead to some very frightening scenarios.
Chris: My favorite horror film has always been the made-for-television 1980 SALEM'S LOT, because what it lacked in blood and gore, it more than made up for in paralyzed horror and that awesome moment where a character steps out of horror tropes and does something interesting (Mark Petrie and the plastic cross from his cemetery diorama). Reverend Michael has just such a moment when he confronts Xander about what he said on the front porch, knowing pretty well that the rot has set in at Mark’s house already instead of just looking the other way and pretending it didn’t happen, like people often do when confronted with things they don’t understand. I’m wondering where that moment came from—was there an inspiration or was it just a natural expression of Reverend Michael?
Heather: We wanted to give the audience an unsettling feeling with the interaction between Xander and Reverend Michael...
Jason: ...all the while, letting the audience think they know what is going to happen.
Heather: Almost coaxing the audience into believing Xander is going to get possessed.
Jason: The interaction between the two Bruce and Cassius in the second sequence was more of both actors being in character. I love to give my actors freedom and let them make decisions based on how they feel in the scene. Bruce then had a brilliant suggestion that Xander should not make eye contact with him. As soon as we saw this behind the monitor, we knew we had our creepy completed scene.
Chris: Of everything in the film, that gave me the most hope that the evil could be defeated, because it meant the hero was not as dumb and tied to his hesitancy-- which the Rev would not have-- as the average hapless protagonist in a demonic possession story. ALONG CAME THE DEVIL II marks your second film as a director and producer team. This movie defies its budget in several scenes, including the aerial shot of the car ride. I can see serious improvements in production quality, performances, and even the scares get better here. I know it is early days still, but what do both of you think you learned on the sequel that the first one hadn’t taught you yet?
Jason: One big thing we learned from our first film, was to trust our gut. We had such a fast turn around that we didn’t really have any time to second guess ourselves. Everyone bought in and enjoyed making this film. We all felt we had something special for a sequel.
Chris: What attracts each of you to horror? Is it just a niche you can do well, or is it something running in your families?
Jason: We both have been fans of horror since we were little. But we love other great genre films as well not just horror. We like to say that fans of horror can watch all movies, but feel horror really pushes the senses. Most horror fans can watch all kinds of movies, whereas fans of Romantic Comedies may not care for horror movies.
Heather: We will be making other films in the future. We have a great thriller in our slate of films, also a wonderful children’s film, and a Christmas movie.
Jason: And we are excited for all of them. But we really look forward to taking our little horror franchise to another level.
Chris: My biggest regrets in this film is not getting more on-screen pairing of Xander and Jordan. When they begin facing Mark’s possession together, they have a very believable bond, partly because of the bed-sharing earlier in the film and partly because they’re just that good as actors. While I can guess we might see more Cassius in your films, here’s hoping Laura comes back for more, too. Looking back on it with your next project brewing, what were your favorite scenes in ACTD2?
Jason: Thank you for noticing. We wanted to build that bond between the two of them and we didn’t have much time to do that in one hour and thirty minutes. So that’s where the scenes play in, with the bond of Xander climbing into bed with Jordan.
Heather: This also led to some of our favorite scenes, like the double jump scare that happens between the two of them!
Chris: The DeVan Clan is more than just your family, it seems to be this great network of people who want to work with you again and again. Feel free to name and introduce anyone in that family that bears special credit for pulling off ACTD2!
Jason: First off, thank you so much-- that is what we are all about. We want everyone to feel like one big family and that we all have each other's back. From my cinematographer Jay Ruggeri, to our Gaffer and P.A.’s onset. Of course, our EP’s Ken Dunn believing in us and the film itself. We are truly one big family of filmmakers and dreamers, here to help one another achieve those dreams.
Big thanks to the DeVan's for the experience and everyone who was kind enough to share with me as I got in the way!
-- Christopher Hooker