Year after year, M. Night Shyamalan releases films that boggle the average mind. “Devil” is no different. Coming across extremely innocent in the trailer, “Devil” eventually proves that M. Night’s focus should remain on the more sinister ideas rather than his typical twisted thrillers.
M. Night started off as the master of twists and revelations, with films like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Village”, that cause for multiple viewings in order to catch all the subtleties that lead you to the shocking ends. Beside “The Last Airbender”, M. Night has been mostly successful in my eyes and has honed in on what sets his films apart. “Devil” becomes a sinister and provocative piece that becomes a staple for horror and suspense.
Originally having caught the trailer a few months ago, the images made me laugh. Not only did the images of five people on an elevator with the lights constantly going out look absolutely ridiculous and restrictive, it looked like a gimmick along the lines of “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield”.
“Devil” is no gimmick. There is a fleshed out story behind the film with multiple layers occurring simultaneously, whether you grasp the metaphysical aspect immediately (the film is called “Devil”) or strictly the surface level where there is a murderer amongst the five flawed characters.
“Devil” is a “how to” manual in bashing pre-expectations. One by one, you try to determine the ways out of the situation presented. M. Night gives communication from the security to the elevator but takes away the ability for the passengers to communicate back. The rescue missions fold nicely with each attempt and the smallest details work to M. Night’s advantage, for example, the passengers have the overhead door open, but when the building’s glorified janitor falls to his death on top of the elevator, his walkie talkie is conveniently stuck above with him. Had the passengers gotten the radio, the film would have been useless, but M. Night plays with the emotions of the audience and the film comes off effectively draught.
The main aspect that sets “Devil” apart from other unholy horror pieces is the main cast, in particular Chris Messina and Logan Marshall-Green. Messina comes from a line of great performances (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, “Julie & Julia”, “Greenberg”, and “Away We Go”) and truly brings a thoughtfulness to the film as a whole. Messina plays the detective that adds the outside element to the piece, not partaking in the actual elevator sequences, but doing the run around that adds to the constricting construct of being stuck on an elevator for 90 minutes.
Having been a fan of The O.C. television show as a teenager, Logan Marshall-Green brings back fond memories immediately. As the deadbeat brother of the O.C.’s main character, Marshall-Green shows that five years later, he has refined his acting skills and is able to carry what could have easily been a poorly executed film had the ensemble not been correct.
There are hints of this failure in the supporting cast. Known for completely different roles outside of “Devil”, the mixture of the supporting cast felt almost too extreme at times. Geoffrey Arend of “Super Trooper” fame comes off too ridiculous to be taken seriously, and though you want to believe there could be something darker playing out inside him, he really just doesn’t fit the part that he is set in. This being just the most prominent example, the rest of the supporting cast is, at times, even more obscure.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of M. Night. Even when others disagree with his off-the-wall storytelling or exclusivity in his productions (he is always writer/producer/director although he does not direct this piece), the man remains unique and refreshing nine times out of ten. “Devil” is somewhat ridiculous in nature, but keeps you guessing who will be left standing when the doors to the elevator finally open and for that, M. Night and his team succeeds.
[Directed by John Erick Dowdle] [PG-13] [80 mins] [17 September 2010]