Thursday, September 1, 2011

Devil (2010)

Coming to an elevator nearest you

A lot has already been said about M. Night Shyamalan falling off track. Though I won't go into that because this review isn't going to be about ulterior motives or posturing as I like to view films in case by case if possible. This time around M. Night steps away from the director's chair and is only here as a producer and for the story, while leaving the rest up to another scriptwriter and the director of "Quarantine." Point being: whatever combination is here of who does what, it turned out to be an effective PG-13 thriller/horror/mystery like "The Skeleton Key" and "Drag Me to Hell" in the last decade as the pacing is snappy and the attention grabbing mysteriousness of it all--despite the premise being told outright in the synopsis--is maintained throughout.

"Devil" plays out something like "Clue" mixed with "The Devil's Advocate" on an elevator with shots outside to give a breather that deal with crimes and the supernatural. I was wondering how they would do a plot where the Devil is in an enclosed space with only so many others and then keep the viewer from being able to figure it out till the end. Now, that's a challenge! This is my third viewing and part of that surprise is lessened but the rest of the experience works notwithstanding as there's a certain unfolding atmosphere along with intriguing and suspenseful scenarios in the meantime. They tweaked what you'd anticipate with the right casting and came up with some interesting ways to pass the time, such as the detective reading into the clues as well as the horror angle where the lights flick off each time someone gets it till they can be possibly saved and get out. This is an 80 minute feature that doesn't dive into a lot of back story that stretches outside of what it presents, but it gives enough to understand the rules and feel for the interaction. What helps at first is this was narrated over top in select areas by a religious security guard experiencing the events with a theory to it all that alludes to the Devil hiding amongst us like a wolf in sheep's clothing to torment a set of humans from time to time. Some lines of narration seemed a little intrusive when what you're seeing is descriptive enough, and the fact that this is an in-the-now thriller and shouldn't have to look back instead of progress forward is reason enough to halt the obvious after a certain point.

A person falls to their death in Philadelphia and a detective who's having breakfast with a sponsor from still getting over his family getting killed years earlier, is called in to investigate. Something doesn't add up about where the victim landed and it leads him to a much taller building. Meanwhile five people enter elevator 6 on building 333 and it suddenly stops on its own in inspection mode. There's some humor at first and idle talk like this is just another day with only momentary problems to fix. The maintenance man tries to get things back on track as the security officers use a loudspeaker but the elevator passengers can't be heard back in the control room. The doors won't pry open and they're in an awkward spot to climb. After the lights flicker and go out someone gets injured but no one knows who did it. The detective investigating the death outside is called up by the security officers as they now have a real situation on their hands. It plays on a certain claustrophobia with used air, people you don't know and somewhere you don't want to be, then with only four walls and no place to go up or down, the film amps up the intensity as more suspicious accidents happen with nasty sound effects to hear for it. It's best to watch this one without the lights for that effect.

Even an elevator full of people with a shady past can't stand up to the Devil. The King of Lies is going to be manipulative, tricky, sneaky and without compassion. That also includes innocent people that get caught in the way when attempting to hinder the Prince of Darkness' plans. Something seems too coincidental to the check-everything-twice detective at the same time of juggling to save their lives. From the control room's perspective, it could be interpreted both ways, as crimes being committed with motivations from each of the passengers having skeletons in their closet, as well as something possibly supernatural. For a story about the Devil there's some redemption, which is so unlike Old Nick not to jive. Though I'm sure there are rules to follow and an order to maintain on Earth. Chris Messina did a believable job as the confident cop and Logan Marshall-Green showed some adaptive range for both sides of possibly being innocent and guilty, though the others can go from hit to miss. In another sense they're mostly effective to the story in that you aren't meant to share a closer connection to these people with a shady past, but watch it for the unfolding experience. I guess there's a moralistic message here with that sentiment and I can imagine that might turn off some depraved horror enthusiasts who want Satan to be as cruel as possible and the picture not to come with a message.

The cinematography was definitely sharp. The opening shot with the city upside down was a nice sinister touch on what seems to be a normal place. What's a refreshing change with this picture is it doesn't have a time stamp in your face. This feels like it was made like an old style thriller: not overly advanced in technology, includes traditional music that adds an ominous tone and moderate filmmaking techniques, instead of making this hip or a promotional stepping stone for a certain actor or filmmaker. "Devil" has a tight script, consistent pacing and direction that makes this a steady and mysterious experience that I'd recommend with a bowl of popcorn and possibly the Holy book handy for those with jitters.

Rating: 7.5/10

Director: John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine)
Stars: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend
Link: IMDB

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