Saturday, May 7, 2011

Horror Film Review

Devil (2010):  Nowadays, if you see the name M. Night Shyamalan attached to a movie (he wrote it) your first instinct is to run in the other direction.  Remember The Happening or any of his films since Signs?  Oy vey.  I'd mentioned in a previous blog post that I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with Devil.  I'm glad I did.

Five disparate folks are trapped in an elevator in a high-rise office building.  And one of them is the devil.  That's a pretty straight forward premise, right?  Ah...not so much.  Before the these people even get on the elevator, we're following the main character Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) as he investigates a suicide.  The jumper took a swan dive through a window of the same office building.  He catches the call when security phones the cops regarding an incident in the stuck elevator.  One of the trapped women is attacked, bitten, really.  That's how Bowden gets sucked into the unfolding drama.

Ok.  So the five people.  There's a new temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), an older woman (Jenny O'Hara) who bitches a lot, a slimy mattress salesmen (Geoffrey Arend) you really want to see dead, a good-looking woman (Bojana Novakovic) who's just a little too suave, and a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green) who fought in Afghanistan.  One of them is the devil.  I had a hunch at the outset and turned out to be right...sort of.  Anyway, they're stuck, the lights flash on and off a lot, and during the off times, weird things happen.  Suave gets bitten on her back somehow which unleashes the inevitable accusations and paranoia.  Bowden is up in the security booth watching.  Yes, there's a video feed and the five can hear what the cops and security guys say but there's no sound with the video.  It's a nice touch, suspense-wise.  Well, then Slimy dies when a mirror in the elevator shatters and a huge shard is jammed into his neck.  Not an accident, of course.  The tension and paranoia ramps up big-time.  Then two more die in very odd ways, making the tension between the remaining two positively electric. 

While all this is going on, cops and fire/rescue have descended like buzzards on carrion.  Security guard Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), who also serves as a bit of a narrator during the film, knows right away the devil's in there and what he's doing.  The story goes that before taking their souls, Old Scratch likes to bring sinners together for a sort of personal smackdown.  Yeah, I don't get it either.  Anyway, Ramirez begins to convince the cynical Bowden of what's really happening, that everyone in the elevator is a bad person, so the cop does background checks on them and discovers Ramirez is right.  What the mechanic did to end up on the devil's naughty list...well, that sort of brings the movie full circle and I won't spoil it.

Devil is not what I expected.  It's more Hitchcock than horror, but that is so not a bad thing.  If I have a complaint, it would have to be the way it hits you over the head with the whole coincidence/fate aspect.  That and the fact that with all the talk about the devil, there's little or no mention of how God fits into the picture.  Bowden has a good line early on in the film.  He says there's no need for a devil because man is evil enough on his own.  Can't really argue with that.  One last thing I need to mention...the opening title sequence is trippy.  It's a continuous shot from a helicopter flying over the city like you've seen in a million other movie openings.  But in this one, the perspective is upside down.  I had an Inception flashback.  

The Breakdown

Acting:  I couldn't find a false note anywhere from anyone.  Well, Arend as slimy mattress guy does get annoying but he dies early.  Messina as Bowden owns the screen.
Story:  It's definitely a Shyamalan morality tale with religious overtones.  Of course, that describes almost every one of his films.  Devil is a taut thriller and best of all, I can't think of another movie remotely like it.
Direction:  John Erick Dowdle took the reins and delivered the goods.  I was worried about the trim, 80-minute running time, but shouldn't have been.  Dowdle somehow makes it  feel like a much longer and fuller film. 
Production Values:  Nothing cheap about this one even though you have a sense the budget was low.  No complaints.
Gore/FX:  There's some blood and other nastiness to keep horror fans happy.  Very minimal CGI.
Scares:  One or two little bits might make you jump. 
The Ending:  Not one of those "Holy crap!" Shyamalam endings I'm used to but it wrapped up nicely.  For the most part.  Kinda.
The Verdict:  Should you see Devil?  Yep.  It's fun trying to figure out which of the five is the devil.  You'll be wrong, by the way.

My Rating4 out of 5 stars.

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