Written by: Brian Nelson (screenplay) and M. Night Shyamalan (story)
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, and Bokeem Woodbine
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Bad Things Happen for a Reason
It didn’t take long for M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation to plummet faster than a free-falling elevator. A decade ago, he was a critical and popular darling after the release of his spine-tingler The Sixth Sense; ten years and six films later, he’s become a walking cliché and caricature of himself. Instead of eliciting buzz, his name now literally induces groans from audiences. That was the scene in my local theater when the trailer for Devil premiered; the audience was taken in by the apparently gripping premise and tension offered by the preview, only to be introduced to a deflating twist when they learned the film was “coming from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan.” I’ll give the devil his due, though--few recent film-makers have been able to match Shyamalan’s knack for imagination and storytelling, so I’ll always hold out hope for a return to glory, even if he’s only serving in a producing and writing role.
Devil begins with a suicide, which, according to folklore, can open the gates of hell and allow Satan himself to roam the earth. While taking a human guise, the titular character can bring together “The Devil’s Meeting,” where he will torture his victims before claiming their souls. In this case, the fiend chooses the most claustrophobic of settings for his convention the damned: an elevator, which houses five strangers, each of whom harbor some sort of dark past or secret. One of them is The Great Deceiver himself, and the passengers begin to die off one by one; meanwhile, a detective with his own tragic history works with a security crew to free them before they’re sent straight to hell.
Devil is a solid little thriller; it’s brisk, taut, and offers a few requisite spooks and shocks on the way to a somewhat predictable, yet spiritual climax. Shyamalan’s involvement no doubt signals that a twist ending will be in your near future, and he of course obliges with an ending that brings all the puzzle pieces together (think Saw with a supernatural slant). It’s not mind-blowing in the least, but that’s indicative of the film as a whole--it’s nothing special or ground-breaking, but it’s a workman-like effort that puts an interesting spin on an old tale. Fans of efficient tales of suspense will find something to like here and there, while those who crave a little bit of violence and spooky imagery will get their fill at times.
Indeed, there’s a little bit of everything squeezed into the film’s 80 minute run-time. The core concept itself obviously lends itself to some horror tropes, specifically claustrophobia and the self-destructive bickering that plays out among the group. No one, including the audience, can trust any of the characters involved, and it’s a decent bunch. Given the film’s run-time, the group is mostly a bunch of thin stereotypes: the token tough black guy, the hapless young girl, the brooding but likeable male lead, etc. They’re brought to life by some acting that’s spotty at times, but everyone involved gets the job done. As the film plays out though, the over-riding question of just who is the devil in disguise takes precedence over everything, so it makes for a rather thin experience.
Ultimately, this is an easily digestible bit of horror, full of jolts and twists. Dowdle’s direction is confident and crisp, and his visuals are brought to life by veteran cinematographer’s Tak Fujimoto’s polished lens. There’s a sense of brooding atmosphere that religious horrors often carry, but this is also nicely offset by the film’s narrator, who delivers the old “Devil’s Meeting” story as if it were a campfire tale. By the end, it feels kind of like a dark, modern fairy tale whose moral center carries themes of forgiveness and salvation, which is well-trodden territory for Shyamalan. It’s a bit hokey at times, as some of the visuals and dialogue misfire, but all-told, Devil a decent spook tale whose fiendish heart is in the right place.
Devil is apparently the first entry in a series of films dubbed “The Night Chronicles,” and if this is any indication, it could at least be an interesting proposition. Shyamalan is still good for some deft and clever concepts, and turning over the reigns to up and coming film-makers (Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm is attached to the next entry, currently entitled Reincarnate) could make for a fun series of films. This film shows promise for the beleaguered film-maker’s career in a producer role, if anything, so maybe there’s hope that we won’t automatically groan when we see his name in that capacity. I won’t say Devil is a miracle in that respect, but it is well-realized, professionally constructed B-movie that’s worth a look when it hits store shelves. Rent it!
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