Mania Grade: C+
14 Comments | Add
Rate & Share:
- Movie: Devil
- Rating: PG-13
- Starring: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Goeffry Arend, Jacob Vargas, and Matt Craven
- Written By: Brian Nelson
- Directed By: John Eric Dowdle
- Distributor: Universal Pictures
DEVIL Movie Review
Is It Hot In Here or What?
By Rob Vaux
September 17, 2010
Devil Movie Review
© Universal Pictures/Bob Trate
Devil really should work better than it does. Then again, you can say that about a lot of M. Night Shyamalan joints. It holds some good ideas at the core, and another couple of passes through the screenplay might have produced a first-rate little shocker. All of the on-screen elements speak to good things: fine performances from a cast of unknowns, intense cinematography from the great Tak Fujimoto and a central concept that (like most of Shyamalan’s work) Rod Serling could have knocked out of the park. And yet, for all the assets in its corner, it can’t quite come through in the final equation.
In all fairness, Shyamalan didn’t helm this one; he just came up with the story and let screenwriter Brian Nelson and director John Eric Dowdle do the heavy lifting. They provide a nice set-up, as five perfect strangers climb into a Philadelphia elevator that soon develops mechanical difficulties.
Trapped in an enclosed space and with a bunch of well-meaning do-gooders trying to rescue them, they soon realize that one of their number is not who he pretends to be. The Devil has come to claim some wicked souls, and he wants them to twist in the wind a bit before he claims them.
It makes a nice prospect for a bit of Twilight Zone fun, augmented by Fujimoto’s seductively eerie shots of the city and a few legitimate twists that elicit their share of gasps. Nelson has a knack for claustrophobic scenarios (witness the brilliant Hard Candy), and as we slowly learn more about the trapped characters, we begin to see the music-box elegance which exemplifies Shyamalan’s best stories. As expected, the film exists for the big twist at the end. By eliminating the auteur’s usual pretension, Devil lets us enjoy the game without fighting through any terminal dignity.
And yet somehow, the scenario never quite connects with us. Learning about the characters and their sins becomes part of the fun--all of them have done things to merit His Infernal Majesty’s attention--but because we know so little, we struggle to identify with them in the meantime. The elevator doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as it needs to be: we keep cutting away to the folks outside, releasing us from the tension when it should be ratcheting us tight. Perhaps most damaging of all, the film includes a ponderous voice over explaining the scenario, along with a helpful Catholic security guard (Jacob Vargas) who conveniently deduces that Satan is, in fact, in the house. A few script revisions might have eliminated such messiness, as well as providing a better sense of why it all goes down the way it does.
Then there’s the Shyamalan factor. The man possesses good instincts for the twist ending, and for making us care enough about the characters to let the whiplash work. Unfortunately, he gets awfully sloppy sometimes, and basic concepts do not a complete film make. Devil could use some real tightening in the logic department, and while the big reveal at the end works quite well, Dowdle follows it up with a chaser that serves only to gild the lily. Furthermore, for all of Shyamalan’s campfire-tale credentials, he very rarely goes for the throat the way he should. His finales invariably let us off the hook a little bit, backing away from a conclusion that might really rattle us in favor of one which leaves us feeling relieved. The filmmakers he presumes to emulate knew better, and it would be nice to see him really get us where we sleep, just once. Devil can’t manage it, not even with someone else at the helm.
Which isn’t to say it lacks appeal. Dowdle and Company are smart enough to keep it short, and it retains a mild entertainment value that should suffice on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Its disposable nature belies a much better film lurking in there somewhere: a film that deserved more than “also-ran” status and a release date amid the September dumping grounds. They couldn’t quite conjure it this time, leaving us with a mild sense of disappointment, even as we applaud Devil for its surprising strengths. Not bad boys. Keep it in the oven until it’s done next time and you might really blow our socks off.