Review: Devil (2010) – A Claustrophobic Ride With Death

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.

devil

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.

Overall Score:

three-stars

Review: Beyond Skyline (2017) – The Empire Strikes Back Of Sequels

While it’s true I deeply adore science-fiction in any form, even I have my limits. And watching the sequel to 2010’s Skyline wouldn’t just be stepping over those limits, as much as it would be taking a gold medal winning long jump over them.

To be fair, I haven’t seen the original Skyline. But considering it was from the guys that directed Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem; a film that, 10 years later, still acts as my measuring stick for bad movies, I didn’t feel like there was any pressing reason to see it.

And so I started to read Kirsten Howard’s review for Den of Geek, expecting Beyond Skyline to receive a score in the 1-2 star category. The first couple of paragraphs did nothing to assuage this assumption.

And then she wrote the following:

Beyond Skyline isn’t just one of the best genre films of 2017, it’s one of the best and most ambitious sci-fi action movies I’ve seen in the last decade.

WHAT?!?!?!?

Was she high when she watched the movie? Or paid? Or both? How on earth could that line be accurate?

I found those 30 words to be so out of left field that I didn’t even read the rest of the review. Instead I snapped up a ticket to the UK premiere at Frightfest Halloween and prayed that I hadn’t just taken an unpaid evening off work for nothing!

Beyond-Skyline-Banner-1

With his wife having passed away recently, Mark (Frank Grillo), a police detective, is having a tough time connecting with his son Trent (Jonny Weston). But within minutes their father-son time is rudely interrupted by an alien invasion.

As the alien ships start scooping up humans by the thousands, Mark and Trent team up with train driver, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic); fellow police officers, Sandra and Garcia (Betty Gabriel & Jacob Vargas); and local hobo, Sarge (Antonio Fargas). Together they must try to avoid the aliens roaming the city streets and escape with their lives.


See that synopsis above that (I hope) you just read? All of that takes place in the first 20 or so minutes. To say that this film moves at a speed resembling Usain Bolt on cocaine would be an utter understatement.

God knows where first-time director Liam O’Donnell (who was also the film’s sole writer) honed his craft; as the way the numerous action scenes are shot, it seems as if they’ve been done with decades of experience behind them. From the bowels of the city subway to the vast expanses of the Indonesian jungles, O’Donnell knows exactly how to use each location to his advantage.

He also doesn’t make the same mistake that his compatriots make in films of similar ilk and force in unnecessary human conflict. Far too many writers and directors often feel that a conflict with aliens isn’t enough, and thus write in some kind of bulls**t nonsense to make characters more “well-rounded.” O’Donnell instead keeps everyone on the same side, realising a team that (mostly) works together is far more likeable to audiences than one that doesn’t.

And that’s just one of the cliches he avoids over the action-packed 100 minutes. Every so often you start to feel that the story might be headed in a predicable direction, and then BAM! It steers onto a completely different course. Beyond Skyline doesn’t just throw cliches out the window, but rather shoves them into a Heavy Gustav cannon and fires it into outer space.

beyond-skyline.png

It also helps that there’s an exceptionally strong cast. Lead by Frank Grillo (of Captain America and The Purge fame), he’s reminiscent of the one-man army you see in the Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies of yore. And as soon as you throw in Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, the two stars of Gareth Evans’ The Raid, then you’ve got badass bloody fight scenes that are turned up to eleven.

With the acting, direction and writing all at top notch, you might expect the film’s downside to be in its visual effects. Especially considering the budget was only $20 million. And yet again that assumption is wrong as; from the spaceships, to the alien foot soldiers, and to the Pacific Rim-esque explosion of fighting, everything feels like it could be equally at home in a $100 million budgeted movie.

Don’t be mistaken, if you’re looking for a thoughtful sci-fi film on the level of Arrival or Ex Machina, then Beyond Skyline is not going to be in your wheelhouse. Indeed the lack of explanation for certain aspects of the film might be its biggest flaw, but one that is still easily overlooked.


Technically I can’t say if Beyond Skyline can be compared to Empire Strikes Back, mainly because I haven’t seen the original Skyline. Regardless though, I have come to accept that Kirsten Howard was correct. With balls-out action and breakneck storytelling, Beyond Skyline is indeed one of the best genre films of 2017 and more than matches most action sci-fi films over the past 10 years.

Overall Score:

four-stars

Photo Credits: JoBlo, Teaser Trailer, Live For Films,