Director: John Erick Dowdle
Writers: Brian Nelson (screenplay) M. Night Shyamalan (story)
With a movie called “Devil”, you kinda know what you’re in for. Add to that a voiceover that unnecessarily leads you through the entire film, setting up the premise of the Devil here on earth, and you have a movie that is written like a good essay – it tells you what it’s going to say, it says it, and then it tells you what you’ve seen. While this may make for a good 8th grade english essay assignment, it makes for a boring, predictable movie.
Our movie starts with a series of upside-down city-scape aerial shots that suggest something is amiss. This visual motif of an opposite, or anti-city can easily be extended to represent the coming of the anti-christ. Further references are the address of the office building – 333 (which is his favorite number divided by two) where our cast of motley characters are soon to be drawn together into elevator number 6 (that number again). All this might be interesting subtext if we weren’t already bludgeoned by our voiceover informing us as to what will be happening next.
Cue the elevator breaking down and whoala! – here we have our setup of 5 seemingly random folks trapped in an elevator. Oh yeah, one of them is the Devil. When the lights go out and bad things start happening, the only thing left to do is guess who is gonna get picked off next, and who indeed might be the big evil red guy with the pitchfork.
Director Erick Dowdle does his best to inject healthy doses of claustrophobia and dark scares, but he can’t overcome the weight of a premise clearly stolen from an Agatha Christie novel. As the passengers start pointing fingers at each other and the police frantically try to figure out exactly who these folks are, it becomes evident that they all have checkered pasts and all are equally likely suspects. Any tension of trying to figure out who is causing the mischief is completely obliterated by the fact that we know from the first frame of the film that IT’S THE DEVIL!! Hence, the movie fails to work on a murder-mystery level, while simultaneously failing on a horror level – ’cause, it’s just really not that scary.
Once the “mystery” of Devil is revealed, all that’s left is to tie the film in a nice bow with an AA meets Catholic Church message of “taking responsibility”, confessing your sins, and let’s not forget& wait for it & yes, forgiveness. The ending reeks of M. Knight’s heavy-handed fingerprints and you can clearly see his twist ending coming a mile away. The good news for M. Knight, however is that while Devil is an average movie at best, it is by far the most effective movie that the former brilliant writer/director has been attached to since Signs.
As for Devil, it has it’s moments of close-quarters fear, but can’t get out of its own way to create any sense of a true horrific atmosphere of Hell on earth.
2 1/2 stars (out of five)