Devil is the most recent thriller from M. Night Shyamalan and runs in the same vein as many of his previous works. His usual writer/director combo, however, was split this time around with director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine). M. Night fans who pay attention to the intro credits might notice that Tak Fujimoto, whose work I enjoyed in The Sixth Sense and Signs, is once again working with Shyamalan in the role of director of photography. I was a bit disappointed to find that usual M. Night maestro, James Newton Howard, was missing, but the music was taken care of pretty well by Fernando Velázquez (The Orphanage). Unfortunately, I suspect that Devil is suffering the same fate as almost all of Shyamalan’s movies: everyone tries to predict whether or not there will be a twist and what that twist might be. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything.
The plot is a relatively straight forward one. An elevator in a high-rise office building breaks down, trapping five seemingly normal people. Their only connection to the outside is a security camera and a one-way radio that allows rescuers to speak to them. After realising that the buttons on the elevator’s control panel aren’t working, the occupants instead begin to push each other’s, and as the already chaotic situation grows violent, rescuers watching the video feed begin to think that something sinister may be trapped with the passengers.
The cast, including Chris Messina and Logan Marshall-Green, is largely made up of more or less unfamiliar faces, which I usually find refreshing, providing that they can act well. In this instance it’s somewhat hit-and-miss. After all, no amount of acting can save a cheesy line like “. . . to truly feel free, you may need to finally start believing in something greater than yourself.” Really, who talks like that in casual conversation? In fact, much of the back-and-forth dialogue seemed very unnatural.
Shyamalan’s recent films have begun to wear a bit thin because he seems to have spent his energy trying to leap over the bar that he set so high with The Sixth Sense. Devil definitely does not take the cake as the worst of the bunch, but it’s far from the best. The Sixth Sense was more shocking, Unbreakable more intense, and Signs creepier. Comparing it with The Village is tough, but I have to put The Village one step above simply because its characters had more depth and meaningful connections between them. In Devil, no characters were related, hardly any solid friendships were depicted, and serious relationships were only hinted at, making the characters somewhat shallow and uninteresting. I found myself not really caring which ones, if any, were going to be killed off.
It didn’t take much effort to realise Devil‘s superiority over Lady in the Water and The Happening simply because I wasn’t bored out of my mind while watching it.
I noticed that some aspects of the movie felt kind of familiar. Like Lady in the Water, the main story is backed by a folk tale told by a person of foreign ethnicity and used as a reference by a main character. Also, similar to Signs and The Happening, there is a deliberate message that we’re supposed to understand. Message received, M. Night . . . message received.
I originally wanted to see Devil in theatre after watching the trailers but never got around to it. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t spend the price of a ticket on it. It has a remarkably short running time, clocking in at 80 minutes, and that, coupled with its overall lacklustre doesn’t make for much bang for one’s buck. For me, the film falls into the category of conventional entertainment, a.k.a. “a renter, not a buyer”. I probably wouldn’t watch it again unless it was with someone else who wanted to see it. That said, I definitely recommend it to existing Shyamalan fans simply in order to keep abreast of his career. For all other moviegoers, see it if you’re looking for a short, mediocre thriller.
I apprehensively await the next installment of “The Night Chronicles”.
Image: Universal Pictures via Wikipedia