When I see a movie titled “Devil”, you’ve already got my attention. But when I find out the story is written by M. Night Shyamalan, I am wary, as I, or anyone, should be. As you know, we give M. Night a lot of shit around here. And I’ll be honest, after Signs, I had my doubts. And hey, I even liked Unbreakable, where many others did not. And it it weren’t for the glaring plot hole in Signs, I might have stayed on board with that one.
When I see a movie titled “Devil”, you’ve already got my attention. But when I find out the story is written by M. Night Shyamalan, I am wary, as I, or anyone, should be. As you know, we give M. Night a lot of shit around here. And I’ll be honest, after Signs, I had my doubts. And hey, I even liked Unbreakable, where many others did not. And it it weren’t for the glaring plot hole in Signs, I might have stayed on board with that one. Then I was told about The Village, and that clinched it for me. No more of his movies. Even this average movie-goer has higher standards than that.
Point is, I think our distaste for most of his work is justified. But I’m a guy that likes to try to keep an open mind about things. The story for Devil is indeed, by M. Night, but the screenplay is written by Brian Nelson, who wrote the screenplays for 30 Days of Night, and Hard Candy. Ok, I like those movies. So maybe there’s a chance Devil will surprise me. And it does.
Yeah, I said it. It actually isn’t as bad as I expected. But don’t call me crazy yet; keep in mind I expected the worst. We’ll be using the M. Night Scale of Quality here.
Devil is simple enough: five people trapped in an elevator begin to suspect that one of them is not at all what they seem. One of them might very well be the Devil himself.
These five people get on this elevator, for one reason or another, and after the elevator gets stuck, we start finding out things about each of them. Luckily it’s all doled out piece-meal, as a police detective is looking into them. The police detective was there already because he was investigating a suicide jumper earlier in the day (now realizing that this has no real bearing on the film at all.). I like the way we progressively find out more about each of these people, building the tension among them in the elevator. And we also find out that the detective, played by Chris Messina, lost his wife and child to a drunk driver five years earlier.
I also like that, though there is a twist here, which is standard for Shyamalan, it’s not as big or ridiculous. And frankly, I like the premise itself. The idea of the confined space, the whodunit type of tension, and the potential for an examination of God and the Devil; these are all interesting things that in the right hands, like, say, Alfred Hitchcock, could make for a very cool film.
Wait, you hear that? That’s the sound of a big BUT coming, like a freight train. You ready? Ok, here it comes: unfortunately, this film was not directed by Hitchcock. Or anyone anywhere near his class of director. And frankly, Nelson’s script isn’t as good as either of his previously mentioned films. The thing is, this detective is NOT in the elevator. He’s the main character, really, and he isn’t a part of any of the tension in the elevator. and for as much as we find out about these trapped people, in the end we don’t really get quite enough to make them fully-formed characters, so other than some scares here and there, you aren’t really all that upset about their well-being. You find out that they are all kind of bad people in some way, hence the Devil come to fuck with them and take their souls.
Oh, didn’t I mention that? See, one of the building’s security guards is a religious sort, and his mom told him a story about how sometimes the Devil will choose some sinners to fuck with before he takes them to Hell. ‘Cuz you know, the Devil is cheeky that way. So, this character narrates at parts and tells you pretty much what’s going to happen before it happens. That’s fine if you aren’t paying attention, but then if you aren’t paying attention, you should go watch the clothes in your dryer spin around or something.
Also, some of the dialogue is a bit lame. Some of the players, which looks kinda like a who’s who of character actors, are a bit over the top. Of course, some of them aren’t given a lot to do except look scared. Oh, and the fact that this only has a rating of PG-13 means there is only some blood and the rest is just “adult situations”, blah blah. This also means that for true horror fans, this movie will offer you nothing in the way of gore, so that audience will be pissed, or not interested at all.
The tag line for this film is “Bad Things Happen For A Reason”. Yeah, especially if you let these people write and direct your film. Oh, and the little twist at the end is there, and it’s ok, but nothing like the big film-changing stuff Shyamalan usually does. That works for or against it depending on whether you see it coming or not. I can’t say the end was terribly satisfying, though.
So, it wasn’t the worst M. Night film, but it was surely not one of the better films this year. If it came on cable on a rainy day and you were feeling lethargic and uninspired, you could watch this.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking I’d prefer to see Resident Evil: 3-D.