The Devouts treatment is earnest and all of the cast play convincingly. It is just that the film is around the level of a well-meaning Lifetime tv movie rather than one that draws you into it in any compelling way. Connor Gastons style is directorially bland throughout the early sections and there is little that energises the film, at least until about the halfway point where David Nykls discredited scientist enters the scene. This is also the point where you feel that the film abandons strict adherence to any true-life account the idea of past lives research conducted by a rickety homemade Virtual Reality headset that throws stroboscopic flickers in the subjects eyes seems decidedly dodgy (and I am sure would have become an essential element of fringe science if anybody had tried this before) but Nykls harsh urgency underpins the idea with a certain conviction. Thereafter, The Devout becomes a far more gripping film about a man who has been shut out of his own family for holding a radical belief and his determination to be let back in.
That said, I had many problems with the basic set-up of The Devout. Charlie Carrick seems to believe his daughter is a reincarnated astronaut on next-to-no evidence or a handful of phrases that should be considered ambiguous at best Jones is the second most common surname in the English-language, is there not just the slight possibility that it is one that his daughter might have heard somewhere else? He takes the word of a scientist who is discredited I dont know about anybody else but if I was going to accept an extraordinary belief then Id want more to go on than the words of a child who is half-asleep and ill or a discredited scientist. (I mean a scientist is discredited for a reason given some of the theories that get tested in scientific papers these days, the only reason he would be discredited would be because of a scandal, falsification of results or failing to properly peer-review). This leaves The Devout in the odd position of being a film that is resolutely certain of the fantastical eventualities its subject believes but fails to offer up any compelling argument to accept what the central character actually believes, merely forcing us to have to accept it because it is what the central character is fighting for.
This brings us to the other aspect of the film that seems to go unquestioned. The film makes a great point of depicting how everything takes place in a devoutly Christian and church-oriented community. (The film could have just as easily left these aspects unmentioned). Towards the middle of the film, we then have grandmother Gabrielle Rose joining forces with local law enforcement (Michael St. John Smith) to shut father Charlie Carrick out of his own house. While this is severe there have been plenty of parents with wacky beliefs before, look no further than the whole anti-vaccination movement this goes oddly uncommented on by the film. Surely, if Gabrielle Rose, who is a doctor, thought that the daughter was in any danger, the correct thing to do would be call child services. Instead, what we essentially have is a community where it seems perfectly acceptable for local law enforcement to collude with the grandparent of a child and shut a father out of contact with his own daughter for holding non-accepted beliefs.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)