“Devil’s Backbone, Texas” is a paranormal themed found footage horror film released in 2015 that is written/directed by Jake Wade Wall. The film takes the form of a mockumentary recapping the life of Bert Wall, a resident of Devil’s Backbone, Texas and his son’s quest to unearth the truth behind the strange stories leading up to his questionable death
The film opens with a series of testimonials and interviews of family and friends of Bert Wall and his son Jake (Jake Wade Wall). At the behest of Jake’s stepmother, he arranges this mockumentary to pay tribute to his father and film the spreading of his ashes at Devil’s Backbone. The mockumentary offers testimonials from Jake’s family and friends highlighting their opinions of his father’s assertions of paranormal activity on his land, as well as his questionable character and morality.
As a prelude, we learn through interviews that the Devil’s Backbone is a stretch of Comanche Indian territory that was also the nexus for many violent deaths, and was the alleged location of a secret Nazi POW camp.
Bert’s past is revealed through the stories told by family and friends interviewed during the film. Everyone agrees that Bert was generally well-liked by the community. He was an accomplished salesman and had a penchant for writing books about ghosts, which were supposedly based on his own personal experiences.
Where people tend to disagree is on the topic of Bert’s character and morality. Was Bert fabricating supernatural stories for personal gain? Was Bert simply crazy, imagining the things he’s been documenting and reporting? Or, is everything that Bert was proclaiming absolutely true? These are the questions his son Jake sets out to answer in the latter hour of the film.
Jake sets out in an RV with his three friends, James (James Carrington), Jodi (Jodi Bianca Wise), and Alex (Alexandria Fierz) and a professional videographer in tow to visit his father’s home and hopefully answer the questions raised above and close the book on this chapter of his life.
The filming reasons used throughout Devil’s Backbone, Texas are impeccably strong. The interviews and testimonials that comprise most of the first 25 minutes of the film and that are scattered in different places thereafter are top-notch, so much so that these scenes would fit seamlessly in any documentary type show on the History or Discover channels. Most of the remaining scenes are filmed via a professional videographer that follows Jake and his intrepid crew as they explore the Devil’s Backbone. Finally, there is one scene filmed by Jake via a head mounted camera. Each of these filming reasons comes across as plausible and realistic under the circumstances which they are utilized.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity in Devil’s Backbone, Texas is sound. The video that makes up Devil’s Backbone, Texas is presented as an edited film rather than raw found footage, which can be explained by the assumption that Devil’s Backbone, Texas was edited from the drove of raw footage shot and collected by the professional videographer hired to film the interviews and trip to Devil’s Backbone.
Found Footage Cinematography
Except for one scene, Devil’s Backbone, Texas is filmed entirely by a paid professional videographer hired by Jake. As such, most of the cinematography comes across as professional and has a more narrative feel since the videographer is a silent third-party filming the main characters. The use of a dedicated videographer also removes some of the justification required for filming under specific circumstances where the characters are under stress, and may not have had the wherewithal to start filming themselves.
As mentioned earlier, the interview segments of the film are shot flawlessly. These segments are expertly interwoven within the main narrative that spans the duration of the film. The result is a mockumentary that feels decidedly like an actual documentary.
Of special note is the selection mixed resolution and quality of media used to stitch the film together, which includes VHS and HD video, family photographs, and audio recordings. The inclusion of these different media further bolsters the perceived authenticity of the film.
The acting in Devil’s Backbone, Texas is good for the typical found footage film. Generally speaking, the individuals interviewed during the mockumentary portion of the film perform exceptionally well, coming across as authentic.
Early on in the film, Jake Wade Wall, James Carrington, Jodi Bianca Wise, and Alexandria Fierz perform admirably in their respective roles. The group’s acting, however, breaks down when they arrive at Devil’s Backbone. Soon after their arrival, and for no seemingly logical reason, the group starts arguing with one another as to whether they should stay and investigate or leave and go home. This flavor of argument continues to rear it’s ugly head throughout the latter hour of the film, a behavior that does not align with the character development presented during the first thirty minutes of the film.
Plot and Immersion
While from a pure cinematographic perspective, Devil’s Backbone, Texas is a “technically” superior product compared to most found footage films, it’s the plot and realism/immersion where this film fails to deliver. To the film’s credit, a healthy amount of time is devoted to character development. Additionally, through the presentation of competing theories, the film effectively raises questions as to what really happened to Bert.
As part of the setup, Devil’s Backbone, Texas provides subtle hints of supernatural activity through what Jakes finds on an old VHS tape the group comes across. We also learn of back-story where Bert purchases large plots of land hoping to cash-in on mining mineral deposits, only to be held-back by some inferred supernatural force preventing the mining operation from taking hold. Throughout this setup we catch glimpses and hints of what may be paranormal activity – enough to pique our interest while still leaving some shreds of doubt. Adding to the lore of the film, a clip of an actual episode of the television show Unsolved Mysteries is presented, which mentions Bert Wall by name, inferring that there’s some thread of truth to this story.
Unfortunately, as the interview portions of the film peter out, what we’re left with is Jake and his friends driving their RV and walking through the woods, intermittently arguing along the way. While this review is spoiler free, it’s safe to say that the final thirty minutes of the film fail to progress the plot and the ending does not deliver a payoff commensurate with the great setup that’s painstakingly established during the first third of the film.