Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven
M Night Shyamalan's name doesn't quite have the same impact like it used to. When The Sixth Sense came out, he was hailed a sensation. But ever since then, his work has slowly dropped in quality. Unbreakable and Signs were good, but The Village and The Happening were severe letdowns. Most people didn't appreciate Lady In The Water either, and despite the recent success at the box office for The Last Airbender, critics totally hated it. And I have to admit, Airbender doesn't seem all great, and I can tell you that even without seeing it.
So now when you attach M Night's name to a film, how would the impact be like? Well, for this new film Devil, he's just a producer and came up with the original idea for the story.
Devil begins with narration, on stories about the devil roaming the earth. On this particular day, five strangers will encounter him. At a high rise office building, five people: a guy in a jacket, a guy in a suit, a young woman, an old lady and a security guard take the elevator up, only for it to malfunction halfway and stop.
The building security tries to get them out, but to no avail. Then, strange things start to happen. Lights going off and on. People getting hurt both inside the elevator, and the ones outside trying to fix things. The five people start to get paranoid, anxious and all their worst traits come to the surface.
At the same time, a detective named Bowden comes into the picture. He works together with the security guards to get the passengers out while learning more about the situation. He's dealing with some personal demons too, which come forth as the film runs along.
My first complement goes to the camerawork. The film begins with the city skyline shown upside down as the opening credits roll and it goes straight into the building elevator. The footage shot inside the elevator itself is well done. It isn't a big space at all, yet everything is shown magnificently. Kudos to the cinematographer for a job well done.
The mostly unknown cast are also quite splendid in their roles. They all play their parts well, from the asshole of a guy in the suit, to the short tempered guy in the jacket, to the claustrophobic security guard etc. All typical characters of course, but still well acted out. Chris Messina, who plays Detective Bowden also deserves a mention for giving a convincing portrayal of the cop.
Now for what doesn't work. I think thrillers like this work better when the audience knows less about what's going on. And here we are told way too much. The narration on the devil through old tales, the superstitious security guard played by Jacob Vargas telling Bowden his knowledge on the subject. Was all this necessary? Vargas even gets a chance to go on one knee and recite a prayer in Spanish for the passengers! Man, that was weird.
Then there's the stuff that happens in the lift. When something bad happens, the lights go off, we hear struggling, the lights come on and someone's hurt or dead. If you watch WWE wrestling, this is very similar to how the wrestler called The Undertaker operates. It's kinda funny when I think about it, but I suppose this was the only way for them to keep things unexplained until the climax. And that brings me to my next point.
The twist is on which one of them is the devil. It's no real surprise actually. Chances are you can make three guesses on who it is and you'll get it right. If you've seen enough films with surprise endings, you'll know how this one ends. Speaking of endings, Devil ends on a rather whimpering note rather than one that chills. And it's not because of the predictable twist, it's more because of what M Night wanted the film to essentially be, which isn't what I wanted, of course.
Overall, it's a fascinating premise for a film that had an average execution. Mildly entertaining, but it won't scare you off taking elevators. (3.5/5)