Film: Devil ***
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Logan marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara
Duration: 80 Mins
Release Date: 24th January 2011
Reviewer: Adam Wing
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. After a string of critical and commercial flops, I wonder whether M. Night Shyamalan had that thought in mind when he handed over directorial duties to John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine).
Shyamalan would have us believe that he doesn’t have time to direct every movie he writes, but that line of reasoning only makes you question how cinematic atrocities like The Happening managed to slip through the net. Shyamalan would do well to put his directorial talent behind the work of another writer, but with new thriller Devil he has chosen to walk another path. With a screenplay by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night), Devil is the first film based upon a series of stories written by Shyamalan himself, a ‘Shyamalan presents’ if you will.
The concept is straightforward enough, echoing a recent spate of minimalist horror outings. One person in a coffin, two people at sea, three people on a ski lift, four people on a boat – now we have five people trapped in an elevator. Seeing as we’re heading into B-movie horror territory, it’s no surprise to learn that one of the five could in fact be the Devil, taking human form to satisfy his deadly cravings.
Sometimes very bad things happen for very good reasons, and no, I’m not talking about The Happening again. No amount of bad things will ever make that particular travesty a worthwhile venture. Shyamalan however has stepped back, and even though Dowdle’s Devil walks in the shadow of masterworks Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, it still makes for entertaining viewing on the most primitive of levels, restoring hope that M. Night Shyamalan might one day return to form.
Five people in a lift, two security guards and one very determined officer on the street below, that’s pretty much the entire ensemble. Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) has demons of his own, but his past is put on hold when he stops to investigate the death of an office worker fallen from a high-rise window. Inside the building, five seemingly random office workers have become trapped in an elevator.
As you would expect from the spawn of Shyamalan, each of the five inmates has a dirty secrets they would like to keep buried, and it’s here that the lights go out and the screaming starts. Two security guards watching from a surveillance camera witness the events unfold as a maintenance worker attempts to restore order, they can see the trapped civilians but can’t hear them, whereas the civilians can hear the security guards but can’t see them. Detective Bowden is all ready at the scene when darkness falls and takes it upon himself to prevent any further devastation. All he can do is watch as the five strangers turn on each other with deadly intent, and the truth slowly dawns on him that the last man standing might not be a man at all.
At just over seventy minutes, John Erick Dowdle wastes no time on developing characters and story arcs, because there’s really no need to. His five protagonists are cliché-ridden caricatures found in many a horror vehicle, five minutes with these guys and you feel like you know them well enough all ready. Which is just fine because Devil works best if you don’t stop to think about it, allow Dowdle to take you on a short, sharp, snappy ride and chances are you’ll have a good time.
It’s fast paced and kind of fun working out who is going to die next. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and the performances are unspectacular, but there’s enough here to maintain your interest throughout. There is a twist in the tale, but it doesn’t try to be too clever, and the sudden ending has a more lasting impression as a result. Hard core horror fanatics will perhaps bemoan the lack of blood, much of the frantic violence happens in the dark, so there’s not a lot to see from a gore hound perspective. It’s just not that kind of movie, and to be completely honest, the lack of prolonged bloodshed feels both fresh and welcoming.
There’s an intermittently interesting tale to be told here, and it’s refreshing to see that Dowdle has chosen to focus on the story rather than the violence. Beyond the initial concept however, Devil remains nothing special. The direction is fast and fluid, but nothing special. The final revelation is neat and tidy, but nothing special. The performances are solid, but nothing special. For the most part Devil feels like an extended TV show episode or movie, never quite making its presence felt in the way you would hope.
Devil is a fun, zippy and suspenseful ride, but a little more depth might have made for bigger success. A promising start for all things Shyamalan, and a proposed Unbreakable sequel might not be such a bad idea after all.