Sunday, December 26, 2010


While some might find this to be an inappropriate movie to be watching on Christmas, I always find it to be a nice palate cleanser to watch something with a hard R rating to counterbalance the sugary sweetness we get to enjoy the entire month. That’s what I say, at least, and Buddha would totally agree with me if he were here. Probably Santa and Jesus would, too.

Anyway, Devil is probably the best film M. Night Shyamalan has been involved with in years (since Signs, I’d argue, though others might go back even father), and of course is the first one he didn’t actually direct, instead being the first in a series of films in which he was to come up with the basic story and allow another (in this case John Erick Dowdle) to direct. It’s curious, as it may well be the best screenplay Shyamalan’s been connected to in some time (the screenplay was actually written by Brian Nelson, which would indicate that the frequent claims of critics that what Shyamalan needs most is for someone to co-write the scripts with him are correct), and would certainly have been better for him career-wise than his last horror venture, The Happening, turned out.

There’s more of a premise than a plot, which is how quite a lot of quality horror movies are. Five people get stuck on an elevator in a high rise building, and one of them is secretly the devil, who proceeds to torment them and kill them off one by one, all while a Philadelphia detective (Chris Messina) watches and counsels from the security office while trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. I like how they’re listed in the credits, as despite each of them being named in the film they are officially listed as Mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green), Old Woman (Jenny O’Hara), Young Woman (Bojana Novakovic), Guard (Bokeem Woodbine), and Salesman (Geoffrey Arend). It’s discovered that each of them is stuck there because of various terrible things they’ve done in the past (Salesman, for instance, turns out to have swindled a bunch of people out of their fortunes with a Ponzi scheme), and according to an old legend about the Devil, after he’s done torturing them all, he’ll kill the final one in front of the person that loves them most just to twist the knife in further, and so it bodes rather ill when the spouse of one of the longest surviving people in the elevator arrives at the security office.

It’s pretty much impossible to guess what of the trapped occupants is actually the devil, since they all seem equally scummy and none are big enough stars to warrant extra notice. In a way that’s a good thing, since it keeps you wondering the whole time you’re watching, but it can be a bit of a negative as well, since it also means that it doesn’t really matter at all who he or she is, nor can one work up a huge deal of sympathy for them once it starts coming out what each of them did to warrant being there. Despite this, it’s very well acted, and there’s quite a lot of tension from start to finish. I kind of wish so much of it didn’t happen “off camera” (the lights keep going out each time the devil makes his move, so as to keep the victims and audience wondering, which means that there’s quite a lot of instances where the screen is completely dark and we just hear various screams and noisy sound effects), but it’s still pretty darn effective.

This was definitely one of the better horror movies to reach theaters this year. It’s a concept I haven’t seen executed in a movie in some time (indeed, every comparable example I can think of off the top of my head where a demonic figure tempts and torments sinners is from the 60s and 70s), and it’s one that’s done pretty darn well. If the characters had been more likable (okay, I liked Young Woman because she was pretty hot, but that’s admittedly not a proper reason to sympathize with a character) I would have enjoyed it more, but of course that would have conflicted with the overall premise and I’m a foolish man for wanting that. Seriously though, of the five characters trapped there, three of them are pretty much completely unlikable, so when one of them dies, it’s more of a whodunnit than a tragedy. Despite that, though, this is absolutely an entertaining horror, and one you can add to your film collection with no worries. I can only hope the rest of Shyalaman’s story ideas turn out so well.

Rating: ***

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