Devil’s Path

Two men encounter each other on a dangerous gay cruising park trail and quickly find themselves caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Noah (Stephen Twardokus) crouches in the forest with a full view of a hiking path, watching the passersby as they walk by. Along comes Patrick (JD Scalzo), a handsome gay man who is headed toward the cruisier, less trafficked strands of the trails. Noah makes his move. The two meet at a park bench and, sort of hitting it off, begin talking about Tarot Cards, fate, chance, and taking control of one’s life. The two are obviously into each other and decide to have some fun despite the fact that a seemingly constant rotation of men keeps disappearing from the area. Thus begins Devil’s Path, a new thriller from writer-director Matthew Montgomery and writer-actor Stephen Twardokus. The film is actually a well-intentioned piece of psychological horror that ends up making as many missteps as clever moves, resulting in an uneven thriller.

The two men are warned of these disappearances by Park Ranger Tom (Steve Callahan), but they flippantly ignore them, duck under a barrier and head off deeper into the forest. Things seem to be heading in a “hook-up” direction when one of the men is attacked by two wandering thugs. It seems the only chance for survival is to get back to the main trails and back to their cars. Instead, they spend the day running from the assailants in what turns out to be an ever-expanding piece of forest.

“The two are into each other…despite the fact that a constant rotation of men keeps disappearing…”

During their time running from homophobic brutes, the two learn more and more about one another in a series of mildly interesting scenes that reveal their character and their motives nicely. However, there is a layer of fear and disturbing mystery that is missing from what easily could have been a very interesting psychological horror piece.

There is a lot to praise in the script from Montgomery and Twardokus, but there is just as much that could have very easily been massaged or re-written to greater effect. I loved the frank, non-apologetic, non-comedic depiction of the gay social scene. I actually even liked the third act of the film that was, of course, chock full of revelations. But then there was the dialogue that at times hit the goofiest notes and almost solemn observations about the nature of man and love in general. Not kidding.

“…a very earnest attempt at merging queer horror with horror in general, and this is a great step in the right direction…”

To their credit, Twardokus and Scalzo are both more than adequate as the two guys on the run, tasked with entertaining us for 90 minutes. The two of them have performance chemistry that really works and acts to disarm efficiently. Then there is the clean editing by horror veteran Alan Rowe Kelly that nudges the action along at a clear pace and the fine cinematography from Stephen Tringali with endlessly inventive ways to shoot the foliage and terrain.

Devil’s Path is less horror and more psychological horror. The problem is that we are asked to gloss over lapses in logic and occasionally clunky dialogue to get where the film wants us to be. Issues aside, Devil’s Path is a very earnest attempt at merging queer horror with horror in general, and this is a great step in the right direction, even if there is a killer on the loose.

Devil’s Path (2019)  Directed by Matthew Montgomery. Written by  Matthew Montgomery, Stephen Twardokus. Starring Stephen Twardokus, JD Scalzo, Jon Gale, Steve Callahan.

6 out of 10 stars

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