The trailers for Devil proclaim “From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan” which seems to be a purposeful attempt to disavow Shyamalan’s involvement in the directing, producing, and writing side of things after previous bombs (Lady in the Water, The Happening). The result: a company called the Night Chronicles, which produces films based on ideas from M. Night that are further developed by other individuals. Devil, the first of the Night Chronicles, overall manages to stay afloat (though at times some bailing is required).
In the film five strangers hop on an elevator together and once it locks up between floors, tensions flare. Detective Bowden and the building’s security watch the group devolve into bickering children through a security camera, only able to speak to them through the one way com system.
I say “devolve,” but there isn’t a transition for these people – as soon as they’re aboard the elevator they quickly reveal themselves to be stupid assholes. This of course is the film’s fatal flaw, as it lacks the believability of previous horror films that have dealt with nervous idiots (The Thing). This is not to say that people are not petty and mean-spirited, just that it takes more time than is allotted in the film to reveal such primary colors. Also, the narration that opens the film chimes in sporadically throughout the story, which feels unnecessary and removes us from the presented reality.
Dissecting the film’s components, not a lot jumps out save for the camera work. Frequent shots from within the elevator emphasize the close quarters and when one character is talking to another, we sometimes occupy the position of the receiver, looking directly back at the person talking. This adds a confrontational, as well as claustrophobic, involvement of the audience.
This may not hold true for everyone (which would be understandable), but the binding for the whole film rests with the redemption story that surfaces toward the end. Especially when it comes to fictional stories, forgiveness does not take center stage with regularity. It’s usually about avenging the death of a father/brother/family so that the audience roots for the bloodletting to come. There are problems with Devil, but for me, the confrontation of a character’s actions and the forgiveness that follows were especially powerful.
POSSIBLE SPOILER OVER
I do not enjoy the phrase “genre film” or the distinctions between different genres since it smothers what might otherwise be considered great art (The Descent) relegating it to the genre slums of mediocrity. However, just like Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, Devil delivers a solid horror tale. It has some good, some bad, but it all evens out.
Devil: Not bad, not great, but okay. If someone wanted to rent it, Devil is good enough that I might re-watch it with them.