Devil's Backbone, Texas full movie review - Documentary/found film, but a little better than average
"Devil's Backbone, Texas" is a documentary/found footage horror genre film. In that sense it isn't especially novel or innovative but it is a slightly-better-than-average exemplar of the type. Readers will note that I have given it six stars, and that bears some explanation.
I'm a devotee of the "relative merits" methodology of judging of movies. Films are such a wide open field that I believe it's impossible to judge all movies by the same set of absolute criteria. I didn't invent this philosophy, but I do subscribe to it. The documentary/found footage horror genre is what it is, for good or ill, and "Devil's Backbone, Texas" is a slightly better than average rendition of that genre. Therefore, six stars.
It should be noted that there are a couple of novel elements to this movie that do make it stand out a little within its field.
There was a "reality" (using the term VERY loosely here?) TV series called "Unsolved Mysteries". The show began broadcasting in 1987, and though it experienced an off-again on-again run, it did essentially span 14 seasons and 572 episodes and seven specials, and so was quite popular by any standard. Its content either strained credulity far past the breaking point, provided a harmless, fun and guilty pleasure, or "proved" that the supernatural was happening all around us all the time as you always suspected, depending upon your personal ideological propensities.
An episode entitled "The Devil's Backbone" aired as part of the January 12, 1996 broadcast. One of the primary characters depicted in the episode was one Bert Wall, billed in the episode as a "Texas Historical Writer". According to Bert, the general area he lives in, Devil's Backbone, Texas, is alive with every supernatural sort of thing one could imagine: ghosts so thick you can't hardly sneeze without knocking one down, spirits of "brutal conquistadors" looking for gold, along with some Confederate soldiers who had been looking for the same thing, and even a Spanish monk. A very busy place.
If you will but take a moment and review the writer and director of "Devil's Backbone, Texas", not to mention one of the producers, you will see that it is none other than one Jake Wade Wall. Note the similar last name to the "historical writer", Bert.
The premise of "Devil's Backbone, Texas" is that it is a 20-years- later follow-up documentary re- examining the events and circumstances of Bert Wall's life and death at his remote home in Devil's Backbone. For quite a ways into the picture it really does present a convincing persona of a documentary with a lot of included footage from the original "Unsolved Mysteries" episode. The viewer is given the impression that this is simply a one-off documentary style follow-up very similar in nature to the "Unsolved Mysteries" style itself, bringing us up to date on the even wilder and more supernatural events that have occurred since the "Unsolved Mysteries" episode.
But at some point the movie clearly crosses the line into supernatural fiction with a menacing truck repeatedly vanishing into thin air, ominous sounds and bangings coming from the dark forest around them, and so on.
Having gone beyond the pale, the movie attempts a surprise ending by having a few of the characters suddenly "reveal" that all the supposedly supernatural things that have happened are nothing more than an organized joke upon the other characters, which doesn't really read very effectively to us viewers. And then, de rigueur for the genre, at the very end of the movie, the supernatural entities step in to give everyone present a very bad ending as characters, lifted by unseen hands, go flying off into the dark to whatever terrible fate awaits them. The camera perspective falls upon the ground and we hear horrific sounds mixed with the terrified screams of our protagonists.
Opera has its formal forms, professional wrestling has its forms, and found footage/documentaries have theirs. So it goes.
So? What we have is a mixing and overlapping between clearly fictional elements with "reality TV" elements serving to keep the viewer a bit more off-balance and able to go along with the "willing suspension of disbelief" a bit longer than usual for such material. As far as I know, that is something fairly new. I think that justifies a slightly higher than average score for this kind of movie. But remember: Shakespeare in the Park it ain't.