Who remembers when director M. Night Shyamalan was the laughing stock of Hollywood?
And I actually mean that literally. Because back in the summer of 2010, someone recorded footage of a cinema audience watching the trailer for Devil. And when Shyamalan’s name came up… They laughed!
While the footage was quickly taken down due to a copyright claim (which makes zero sense since it was footage of a trailer); the news spread like wildfire. As such, though Devil isn’t a film that I’ve actively avoided, I couldn’t quite forget that original reaction.
However, considering that Shyamalan only produced Devil, assuming that it was as bad as his other films of the period was pretty ignorant of me. (Will anything ever be worse than The Happening?)
In the end, it’s a shame I put off watching this film for so long, because it turned out to be quite the interesting low-budget experiment.
On what seems to be a normal day, five people become trapped in a stuck lift. The group is made up of a mouthy mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend); an older woman, (Jenny O’Hara); a new security guard (Bokeem Woodbine); a mysterious young woman (Bojana Novakovic); and a quiet veteran (Logan Marshall-Green).
Despite the confined quarters, something drastically goes wrong between the occupants, and results in security guards, Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and Lustig (Matt Craven) needing to call the police. Already in the local area investigating a suicide, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) ends up attending the scene.
Despite his attempts to control the situation, multiple unexplained events complicate matters, resulting in Bowden being pushed into a race against time to try and save the lift’s occupants.
Opening with an arresting image is often a great way to invite audiences into your world. It’s no wonder that scenes such as the massive Star Destroyer filling the screen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope; or the opening bombastic tones of 2001: A Space Odyssey have become memorable scenes in their own right.
While it doesn’t quite reach the same timeless heights, Devil does make a great attempt to do so. The film opens with such a traditional image, the skyline of Philadelphia. The difference being that it is upside down. A simple change, but as the camera swoops through the city and between skyscrapers, it’s hard not to feel unnerved.
It’s a testament to the skills of director John Erick Dowdle that he manages to keep this sense of foreboding for almost the entire 80 minute running time. As the large majority of the film takes place inside an elevator, this can’t have been the easiest aspect to maintain. Indeed, the tension that permeates the film means that Devil pivots far closer to a thriller with one or two added horror elements.
As you may have guessed from the title, religion plays a large part in the proceedings, and in turn presents the film as a sort of morality tale. It’s a little surprising the film wasn’t advertised as a Christian story, a la God’s Not Dead. Fortunately the film doesn’t present religion as the greatest thing since sliced bread, instead using the belief in a higher power to have the five trapped individuals essentially atoning for their sins.
As such it’s kind of a shame that said characters aren’t really developed as well as they could have been. With the exception of Messina’s Bowden, most other characters are rather thinly sketched, existing only to die or to vomit up an sicking amount of exposition.
Though a little more work needed to be done on its structure and dialogue, Devil isn’t anywhere near the worst of Shyamalan’s work. In fact, the numerous tense scenes accompanied by stellar camera work make for a surprisingly entertaining movie.
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