In 2008 John and Drew Dowdle surprised horror fans with their American version of [REC] that was surprisingly tense and shocking, despite following the source material very closely. Now the duo are gearing up to unleash their latest thriller, Devil, in theaters later this week, and in anticipation of the film’s debut, Dread Central caught up with the Dowdles to find out if the devil is really in the details.
Devil, an ensemble project featuring five people stuck in an elevator trying to figure out just which one of them is more than meets the eye, stars Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, and Matt Craven. The film is the first project from the Night Chronicles production banner, the new company formed by M. Night Shyamalan. The Dowdles discussed how working with the man who revolutionized the modern twist ending in films with 1999’s The Sixth Sense was a dream collaboration and how Shyamalan was the first to want them to push the proverbial envelope.
“We got involved with Devil because Night saw The Poughkeepsie Tapes and really liked what we did with that,” explained John. “Quarantine hadn’t even come out yet the first time we met so we got this job more on the merits of that project than anything else. We wanted to do it because we’d been known for doing trauma-horror so this was our chance to do something more general, where everything wasn’t so extreme, like you see in Quarantine.”
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out when we first started, honestly. Since this is the first Night Chronicles production, it wasn’t like we could talk with previous directors to ask them about their experiences. We both learned very quickly how awesome Night is, and I loved how he always pushed us to be as ballsy as we wanted to be with Devil,” Drew said.
John added, “Night was on set for four days, but he’d always watch the dailies. It was a great experience having a director play goalie for us, keeping the studio at bay, because that allowed us to really dig in and make a great movie.”
Even though Night came up with the initial story idea of the devil infiltrating a group of unsuspecting strangers who meet randomly while stuck in an elevator, the brothers collaborated with writer Brian Nelson to take his initial vision to a terrifying new level.
“Even though this was different than other projects we’re known for, we’ve always loved the more psychological side of horror,” explained John. “The Shining was our inspiration while we were making Devil – we just wanted to maintain that same kind of ominous feeling that keeps building and grates on your senses as the story gets more and more twisted.”
For Drew Devil also needed to be something that keeps audience interested in the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the story. “That being said, we also wanted to still have an investigative side to the story, too, with Chris Messina so it keeps the audience engaged and involved with figuring out who the devil actually is. There’s a lot going on with that side of the story as well.”
Early on both Dowdle brothers were happy to learn that both Night and the studio behind the project were happy to take a chance on making a quality horror film that relied more on good storytelling than stunt casting.
John explained, “We wanted this movie to feel more realistic than maybe our other projects may have felt to audiences. At the core it’s five people in an elevator, and we needed these to be realistic people, not huge stars. We cast this group as a whole, and if we would have changed one person, then we would have had to change the entire group.”
“Both Night and Universal felt completely comfortable with marketing Devil as a concept and not marketing it solely on star power. We got to venture out and find the right actors for the parts and we may not have this kind of luxury of this kind of project again. It was a really enjoyable filmmaking experience for both of us,” Drew added.
Part of the challenge in making Devil a roller coaster ride for fans was relying more on the setting itself rather than the extreme gore and violence we saw in Quarantine.
Drew said, “With Quarantine, once the mayhem hits, you know the rest of the movie is nonstop tension. But Devil is a different kind of animal so we decided we wanted to toy with audiences a bit because once they feel like the danger has passed, something new is ready to hit them hard.”
“It was a fun challenge to make the elevator a visceral experience for audiences, which is not an easy thing to do,” John explained. “We tried to not shoot the same way twice and we did a lot of shots from the POV of each of the characters in that elevator, and I think that really puts the audience right inside the elevator alongside them to see what these characters are seeing. We wanted the elevator itself to feel like it was evolving with the story and as the storyline gets darker and darker, so does the space. It was almost like having another character in the film.”
With theatrical genre films having an uneven year at the box office, Dread Central asked the Dowdles if they had any big concerns with their impending release. John was quick to point out that it’s not just horror that is struggling theatrically these days. “It seems like every couple of months people are quick to declare that horror is dead, but that’s just never the case. The reality is all genres are struggling theatrically right now, and the bottom line is if you have a good story that can connect with audiences, then you will succeed. I really think we have that with Devil, and I think there’s an audience out there that will connect with this story.”
With Devil’s release set for this week, the Dowdles are looking toward the future with their latest script they’re collaborating together on called The Coup.
“The Coup is an intense thriller with some horror elements in it. It’s about an American family stuck in Cambodia in the midst of a political coup that starts executing Westerners and their attempt to escape the country before they are killed. It might be the most intense thing we’ve ever collaborated on because of the subject matter,” said Drew.
Both John and Drew said even though they’d love to try their hand in all genres of filmmaking, horror will always be their home. “We grew up watching horror movies with our mom and were taught as we grew up that it’s fun to scare people so I think that’s what we’d like to continue doing,” said Drew.
And for both Dowdles, filmmaking will always be a family affair.
John said, “Unless Drew has better plans, I think we’ll always work together. Filmmaking is such a two-person job really so it’s nice that at this point we know how to read each other’s minds, and working together really helps when you need someone to help break down the day’s work or someone to just bounce ideas off of. I couldn’t imagine doing it without him.”
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