Director/Screenplay – Connor Gaston, Producers – Connor Gaston & Amanda Verhagen, Photography – Daniel Carruthers, Music – Gilles Maillet, Visual Effects – Denver Jackson & Chris “Boots” Orchard, Production Design – Jesse Cattle. Production Company – Clownbog Studios/Hoggwild Films/Verhagen Entertainment
Charlie Carrick (Darryl Eckhouse), Ali Liebert (Jan Eckhouse), Olivia Martin (Abigail Eckhouse), Gabrielle Rose (Ava), David Nykl (Dr David Fisher), Ryan McDonell (Mitch), Michael St. John Smith (William), Kevin Kerr (Pastor John)
Darryl and Jan Eckhouse are a Christian couple in a small British Columbia town. Their four-year-old daughter Abigail is terminally ill. Darryl is curious when Abigail mentions a term that he later learns was a technical acronym used by NASA. Abigail then says that her name is Commander Jones and Darryl realises that she is referring to Commander Edward Jones, the astronaut who died in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire. However, the idea that Abigail is the reincarnation of an astronaut is ridiculed by Jan. Darryl goes out on a limb and contacts David Fisher, a discredited academic who claims to have scientific proof of past lives. However, when Darryl invites Fisher into the house to examine Abigail with his equipment while Jan is at church, she returns early. Horrified, she throws Darryl out. Barred from the house by Jan’s mother and the local law, he tries to find a way to make contact with Abigail.
The Devout is a film about a man who believes his daughter is the reincarnation of an astronaut (the film seems to be referring to Edward H. White, one of the astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967). The film goes out of its way to inform us on both the opening and closing credits that it is based on a true story. We are never furnished any other details about whose story is being told and their circumstances, which does make you a little leery – there are definitely some aspects of the film that leave you questioning just how much of the so-called true story has been fictionalised. I contacted the press office for the film and the only response I received in request for details was the director’s comment that “the film is inspired by true events (as opposed to based on one true story). The characters and events are unique to the film with the exception of the broad aspect of the Apollo 1 fire.”
The Devout‘s 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 Gaston’s 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 Nykl’s 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 subject’s eyes seems decidedly dodgy (and I am sure would have become an essential element of fringe science if anybody had tried this before) but Nykl’s 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 don’t know about anybody else but if I was going to accept an extraordinary belief then I’d 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.