Reviewed by Nomad
Directed by The Dowdle Brothers (Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle)
Starring Jacob Vargas, Bokeem Woodbine, Chris Messina, Matt Craven
The world is said to be in the middle of a war zone. The forces of heaven beat back the hordes of hell on a daily basis, and most of these battles are subtle little games of chess. A human being is pushed into a situation. The choices they make to get out deem them worthy of heavenly bliss or the eternal torment of hell. Consider every choice you make as a part of this game. This is ... somewhat ... the premise posed by the creators of Devil, in which five strangers find themselves trapped in an elevator, twenty floors up, waiting for their demise to come.
Detective Bowden (Messina) is first on the scene when a body pops up on the roof of a delivery van and the point of origin seems a mystery. Our recovering alcoholic hero cop, who is still mourning the loss of his family from a fatal car crash, is lead to the office building where our five potential victims are trapped in an elevator after one of them is wounded during a mysterious attack. As Bowden works to figure out if the passengers are connected to the body in some way, our ultra religious Latino security guard buddy (Vargas) has figured out that the devil himself is involved and shares this information whenever possible, even going so far as to illustrate the demonic influence by spoiling some perfectly good toast with jelly. EVIL!! Get thee out of my PB&J, SATAN!! When the devil is near, everything goes wrong. By this logic, Kanye West is the devil. Think about it.
This movie confuses me immensely. The commercials have made it abundantly clear that the devil is the reason for all the badness coming down in one place at one time. They also establish that the devil is in the elevator with the five or is one of them. I’d buy the mystery being which one is the devil, but the movie spends all of its energy with Detective Bowden trying to unravel a human mystery. When the body count starts to rise, Bowden goes into overdrive, leading us to clues about each of the elevator dwellers with the intent to point the finger at him or her as the killer. A violent past ... a connection to a company ... implements of sabotage ... all are clues revealed.
But WAIT!! IT’S FUCKING SATAN!! Last I heard, the devil doesn’t need a wrench to loosen up a bolt in a harness to send a dangling workman plummeting to his death, ya know?! All the misdirection and artificial mystery seems pointless. What’s worse, the constant running around outside the elevator destroys the potential for a claustrophobic atmosphere within. I may be a jaded horror movie psycho, but I can tell when a movie is absent of tension ... and this one has less peril than watching Buzz and Woody escape from a drooling baby’s crib.
Acting performances are sufficient. I say it so flatly because the writing is largely uninspired. Our elevator is filled with unlikable characters, leaving us with no one to root for ... or even against for that matter. No witty banter ... no snappy insults ... no exploration of characters through their shared plight. The actors in the elevator scream and jump and do their best paranoid victim impression as counterpoint to the stern-faced cops who squint in the face of danger.
The most time is spent on Bowden, who actually does make you feel for him. TOO BAD THE MOVIE ISN’T ABOUT HIM, RIGHT? RIGHT? Ahh hell. The movie is about him, isn’t it? One look at the IMDB credits will show that Shyamalan is the creator of this story, and he’s brought all his old favorites with him including “life changing car crash” and “man loses his faith in the face of personal loss.” Sweet ... but ... yawn. Cinematically, Devil has no particular style other than to tell the story in the most direct way possible. Even the sequences where the lights flicker and evil has its way with the elevator people (as seen in the trailers) are unoriginal, flat in tone and far from shocking. So what does Devil have to offer the horror community at large? Not a whole hell of a lot. The bloodshed is light, the deaths mundane and the supernatural aspects kept to an extreme minimum. Maybe the title Lil’ Devil would have been more accurate since that’s the amount you are going to get.
Devil is JUST OK ... and just barely that. An opening sequence shot upside down had me wondering if I has wandered into Inception by accident and convinced me I was about to see a film that would make me want to curse the evil taskmasters of Dread Central who make me sit through such drek. As the story unfolded, I found myself coping. Tolerating. Hell, I was downright indifferent.
Devil is an adequate film that won’t bore you to death and, thankfully, ends in 80 minutes, allowing you to move on with your life in due haste. It’s a tense thriller for people who still love to listen to WHAM! The poster for this film should read DEVIL: "If you have absolutely nothing better to do today". The quote under that can read “A vast improvement over The Happening!” High praise, indeed.
2 1/2 out of 5
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