Devil

Devil | Horror/Thriller | rated PG-13 (L,V,G) | starring Chris Messina, Matt Craven, Caroline Dhavernas | 1:20 mins

Five random strangers become trapped together when their elevator stops on the 21st floor of a skyscraper. With security and police watching on the security cameras, strange things begin happening in the elevator. Lights flicker, glass breaks, people get cut and worse, suggesting there may be a supernatural force at work among one of the people in the elevator.

Devil reminded me of The Devil’s Advocate in that it gives away what could have been a really knock-out twist in the title. Actually, Devil gives itself away several times before it gets to the meat of the story, opening with a voice over that outlines the story we’re about to see. “It starts with a suicide and ends with everyone dead” says the narration, determined to let the air out of the movie before it even starts. It doesn’t want the supernatural elements to come as too much of a rug pulling out from under the audience. God forbid. And the truth is, despite the involvement of producer M. Knight Shyamalan, Devil has no twist.

First and foremost, Devil is not nearly as bad as the association with Shyamalan might suggest. It doesn’t quite work, but it isn’t laughably bad in the way the Shyamalan’s last 1, 2, 3, 4(!) movies have been. That way that sends the eyes rolling to the back of the head or elicits boos and jeers and that uncomfortable feeling of sitting in a theater and having the entire audience turn against what’s on the screen. No, it’s not nearly that bad. It’s just ok. And with Shyamalan’s track record, ok is pretty good. That’s because Shyamalan stands as producer and story creditor for this with the writing and directing siphoned off to folks who aren’t going to turn the concept into a godd*** bed time story. Written by David Slade collaborator Brian Nelson (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, ok so that’s not so impressive either), Devil is better than a Shyamalan version of it would have been.

Devil is confined cinema, working better as a cop movie then a supernatural thriller. The movie keeps up a brisk pace as detective Bowden (Chris Messina) takes charge of the control room and tries to identify all the people in the trapped elevator using a mute security video and a building sign in sheet. It’s when the movie gets inside the elevator when it doesn’t quite work. The five figures inside are underwritten or obnoxious. Archetypes, suspects, decoys, chess pieces to keep us guessing as to who the devil is, but not real people.

Even if you have it pegged early on by predicting that the most unlikely suspect will be the devil, the movie still does a good job of keeping us guessing right up until the reveal, which is for what it’s worth a show-stopper. The movie’s most crisp and surprising moment. Often Devil is cut off by a PG-13 rating, distracted by cartoonish CGI and half-hearted discussions of God and the Devil. Like many mainstream movies Devil wants to be about the devil but gutlessly wants to steer clear of any specific religion discussion. Instead conveying the devil as a force that bad things happen around. Like sandwiches falling jelly-side down in a clear Shyamalan-inspired moment to get the pedestrians to relate.

For the most part Devil is a well-shot movie that works better as a quick lazy-Saturday detective movie then as the supernatural thriller it points toward. The supernatural elements anti-climactic when they come, the thriller elements utterly empty. As with Quarantine, director Dowdle can’t conjure up thrills from this promising confined cinema scenario. And ultimately I wanted to like the non-Shyamalan movie more than I did.

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