US (dir. Drew & John Erick Dowdle)
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Geoffrey Arend, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven, Joshua Peace, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Cobden, Zoie Palmer, Vincent Laresca, Rudy Webb, Craig Eldridge, Robert Lee, Genadijs Dolganovs, Joe Pingue, Michael Rhoades, Kelly Jones, Lee Oliveira, Jonathan Potts, Alice Poon, Stacy Chbosky, Jay Hunter
Synopsis: Trapped in an elevator high above Philadelphia, five people discover that the Devil is among them – and no one can escape their fate.
Review: Ever sat in a movie theater during a preview for a horror film and heard a large groan when a trailer would boldly proclaim it was for a film by “M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN“? That groan is likely coming from someone not unlike me… someone sick and tired of hearing about yet another disastrous attempt by Shyamalan to make a film. Seriously though, who keeps green-lighting this guy’s projects? Is he still riding on the name he made for himself after “The Sixth Sense”? I mean, come on, the last good film this guy made was “Unbreakable”, and now after a string of flops ranging from “Signs” to… *shudder* “The Happening” you’d think this one-trick pony would quietly shuffle off to the stable or something. The Shyamalan name being attached to a film is now becoming more of a joke than any serious hook – in fact, if anything, it’s now become more of a warning or a threat than it is an indicator of a good film. Naturally, having Shyamalan’s name attached to “Devil”, even if only in the capacity of producer, is still more of a deterrent than a promise of solid entertainment. I avoided “Devil” as best I could, especially with the warning that he was responsible for the story the screenplay was based on (I’m so sick of his “twist” endings). Eventually however, with little else to watch on a cozy New Year’s Eve night, I figured, “Ahhh what the fuck, let’s give’r a go”.
Now while I don’t exactly hate “Devil”, I don’t particularly like it either It’s certainly not one of those “meh” films, it’s not exactly boring, and it can neither be accused of being stupid nor dull. The premise of the film follows the same set-up employed by virtually every soap opera, five strangers are trapped in a broken down elevator (does this ever happen in real life?). However, in “Devil” one of the strangers is actually Satan himself (or herself), a very “Twilight Zone” style twist if I may say so myself. It’s kinda like that episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” from “The Twilight Zone” or even that movie “Cube”, except in this case the characters have communication to the outside world and have at least some hope of being rescued, because there are people aware of their situation.
Luckily, the film succeeds in keeping you guessing which of the five strangers is the devil, right up to the, you guessed it, twist ending. There’s never really a character who you don’t suspect is the devil, everyone gets the benefit of your doubt until they start dying off. Really, the way the twist ending worked out, the devil could have turned out to be anyone, but what is commendable is the way you are at least kept in suspense, until the identity of the devil turns out to be a bit of a cheat (hey, no one said the devil plays fair!). Also, the fact that the cast is virtually unknown puts every character on a very even playing field, i.e. there’s no big name actor or actress who you can either bet will bite the dust at the very beginning (for shock value) or at the very end/not all (in order to maximize their screen time). Unfortunately, this whole “let’s keep the audience guessing” gag becomes a little bit overplayed when most of the action, and virtually every “scary” scene takes place in absolute darkness. Yeah it builds mystery and suspense (I guess…) but at the same time it feels lazy, and an easy way to squeeze into a PG-13 rating. The audio, which is supposed to make you assume crazy stuff is going on in the elevator when the lights go out, sounds more like a tape recording of someone having sex or working out really hard to their Richard Simmons’ “Sweatin to the Oldies” DVD.
I think this calls for a “Sweatin to the Oldies” break.
So with little other than audio working to keep you held in (what I can only assume the Dowdle brothers were hoping for) a state of terror, there’s not much in “Devil” to really scare the shit out of an audience. Even a group of squealing teenagers would find this a little too PG-13. I mean, come on, the movie is called “Devil” for fuck’s sake, and there’s virtually no gore, implied violence only, and hardly any satanic undertones. Even the deceptively ominous undertones, which had me pretty on edge I’ll admit, turned out to be a giant tease. There honestly should be some sort of law against using Satan’s name in vain. There also should be some sort of law against using Mexicans to explain religious beliefs to white people. This is now the second film of 2010 (remember “Paranormal Activity 2”?) to use a Mexican blue collar worker to expound Catholic doctrine and explain the film’s tie to religion. At least the cleaning lady from “Paranormal Activity 2” burned candles and said some prayers and stuff, in “Devil” the token Mexican uses the “jelly toast” test, what I hear is apparently not only a tried and true method approved by the Vatican but the only positive way to confirm the presence of Satan. Like, he seriously flips a piece of jelly covered toast on to the floor, and based on it landing jelly side down (which it always does anyways) deduces that yes, the devil must be in the building. Christ almighty…
At least I can safely say that this is better than “Legion” and its “God sends his angel mercenaries to destroy mankind” heavy-handed religious bullshit. Instead we get the kind of gradually building claustrophobic thriller on par with something you’d see on “The Twilight Zone”, and that is not praise I give out too often. Unfortunately though, the ending wasn’t scripted by someone of Rod Serling’s particular talents. Thus the film very quickly transitions from unsettling thriller to just a tad bit silly in the span of 90 minutes, leaving you with an unsatisfactory ending which, despite the presence of what Shyamalan would consider to be a “twist” (it’s not a twist, he should look up the definition of one), is more ludicrous and trite than one could possibly imagine.
There’s really no reason for you to go out of your way to see this. It’s actually not even worth re-watching after you find out who the devil is. The entertainment value is moderate, and with little horror on display, we are left with something more along the lines of a police procedural film than a horror movie, very much like something you’d see on”CSI”. Maybe some “Lost”-type flashbacks could have helped this film along, or heck even if it was entirely a found footage piece – I’m not too sure. Really the major problem with this film is what it does with the ending, not how it’s made, so I can’t really criticize it too harshly since the Dowdle brothers do quite well with the material at hand, perhaps even better than Shyamalan could have done himself (actually, I’m 90% sure anyone in Hollywood could do a better job than Shyamalan at this point). I honestly feel like there is a better film somewhere underneath “Devil”, unfortunately it’s not like it can be fixed or improved upon at this point. Maybe if they remake it in 25 years (hell, maybe even next year at the rate they’re going these days) the film will come off a lot better than it is now, unfortunately Shyamalan’s skewed views on religion are yet again served up in movie theaters alongside the popcorn and fountain drinks, so yeah…