20 September 2010

Going Down- DEVIL Review

Devil is the first of "The Night Chronicles", three stories conceived by the ever-disintegrating M. Night Shyamalan and then bequeathed to up and coming horror writers/directors. This one opens on a suicide, and according to religious lore, this is an event that gives the Devil a portal into human form, to hunt for the damned who have escaped him.

At some point or another, his host enters a skyscraper and hops into an elevator, which promptly breaks down and traps five people inside. A salesman, a security guard, an old lady, a socialite and a mechanic are stuck with each other- but while they all seem destined for Hell, which of them is the Devil in disguise?

It's a matter of public record that Shyamalan isn't exactly living up to his initial potential. All of that came to a head in The Last Airbender, resulting in widespread reports of people audibly groaning at the trailer for Devil when it pronounced itself as "a new nightmare from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan." Funnily enough, for a director once heralded as the new Hitchcock, this story makes for the most Hitchcockian film his name has been attached to, and he didn't even direct it.

Its central gimmick is reminiscent of something like Lifeboat, when it really needs the execution of something like Rope. Some small smidgen of suspense would be massively appreciated in a film that made me feel like I was watching it underwater. There are jump scares and plot twists and emotional moments, but none of them have any impact whatsoever, hence the feeling of being underwater.

Mostly, the detachment comes from the fact that we exit the elevator to show other characters rather than zeroing in on our trapped Satanic suspects. Indeed, the main character is arguably a detective who watches helplessly. He's played by Chris Messina, who gives the best performance in the film despite being saddled with the most predictable backstory. There's a great slimy turn from Geoffrey Arend too, but it's really nothing to remark upon.

The screenwriting credit on this one goes to Brian Nelson, who previously wrote Hard Candy. This makes me, like many others, call shenanigans on how much Shyamalan actually did. The script is full of his tics as a filmmaker- the stuff that's annoyed us in every single one of his films since Signs. In particular, the hilarity is ramped up by the presence of a Hispanic security guard who first brings up portents of "el diablo", seeing evil in the way a piece of toast lands on the carpet. M. Night almost certainly polished the script, even if in his case that means spitting on it and trying to shine it with the hem of his shirt.

What's that thing, you ask? Not a clue. And I've SEEN the film.
It's all just Fine, really. Fine with a capital F, because I am consciously damning the film with faint praise to say that it's merely fine, and some may yet find the same kind of entertainment they did in The Happening, for unintentional laughs. It ambles along without any tension or self-awareness, and many of its cheap scares don't even make any sense in the final resolution. Did something bite her? What was that behind the security guard? These are just some of the questions Devil will raise and then leave you to forget about on the way home.

Many of the film's establishing shots are upside down, which oddly enough reflects Shyamalan's skewed perspective on filmmaking these days. Devil ends up being an utterly inoffensive and smaller-scale version of Ten Little Indians, despite having the potential to be a lot more memorable and interesting. It's no reflection on director John Erick Dowdle, but on a story that is stretched even at 80 minutes, which would be more suited to a Twilight Zone episode, or a slot in an anthology horror film. I'd say it's really more of a thriller than a horror film, but then where are all the thrills?

Devil is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Devil, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? If you've recently dropped toast with the jelly facing down, I'd advise you not to call a priest or an exorcist or the Ghostbusters- no one really acts like the characters Shyamalan creates.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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