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Combining nail-biting suspense with strong characterization and unexpected twists, “Devil’s Path” succeeds as a taut, indie thriller.

Director Matthew Montgomery’s Devil’s Path, a lean thriller that focuses on two men fighting for survival in an isolated forest, hits just about every note correctly. With its stark setting, well-written script, and finely-tuned performances, the movie succeeds as both a thriller and a psychological character piece.

The film opens in a picturesque wooded landscape known as “Devil’s Path,” a popular hiking trail that men use for sexual rendezvous with other men. Stephen Twardokus plays Noah, a shy and soft-spoken young man whose delicate demeanor may very well be a mask that hides dark secrets within. JD Scalzo plays Patrick, a more confident and outspoken man who has come to Devil’s Path for some intimate fun.

In their first interaction with one another, the two men get along, but neither of them appears to be looking for the same thing. During their hike, Noah and Patrick learn that several men have recently gone missing from the woods and that they should be careful not to venture too deeply into the rugged terrain. Eventually Patrick tells Noah that they should go their separate ways, and their chance encounter seems to come to an end.

Suddenly, offscreen, a violent confrontation with two homophobic thugs results in a bloody head injury for Noah. He and Patrick must now unite in an effort to escape the woods and further attacks from the two men.

At this point in the story, Devil’s Path seems to be heading into Deliverance territory, but the film takes a handful of sharp turns that all speak to the unique characterization of both Noah and Patrick. Despite its thriller-trappings, the script is not limited to action sequences (although there are many) and instead takes its time getting to know the two protagonists as they strategize, argue, and reflect on their lives and the choices they have made.

As the tension and suspense mount, secrets will rise to the grim surface of the story, and audiences soon learn that both Noah and Patrick are not the same innocent men they met at the start.

Symbolically, tarot cards, photographs, and even Biblical allusions will all play a role in the unraveling of this well-crafted psychological thriller. By the end of Devil’s Path, just when audiences might think the story is over, director Montgomery (who also penned the script with Twardokus) boldly adds an epilogue of sorts that surprisingly lasts several minutes.

Involving the audio contents of a recently-discovered cassette tape, the final scene of the movie is eerily somber and reflective. When the image onscreen finally cuts to black and the closing credits begin to roll, audiences will have plenty to dissect about the psychological manipulations they have just witnessed between the principal characters.

Currently screening at film festivals, Devil’s Path will be released by Breaking Glass Pictures on March 1st.

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