M. Night Shyamalan didn’t write or direct ‘DEVIL’, he was just one of the producers, and it’s based on his story. It was written by Brian Nelson, and directed by John Erick Dowdle. This is the first in a series of films from the twist master though. DEVIL (billed as “The Night Chronicles 1” on screen) does mark something of a change in direction for the movie maker. Rather than build up to a concealed, big-surprise plot twist, like in so many of his other films, such as brilliant movies such as ‘The Village’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’, this movie takes the different approach of explaining right from the start the main plot.
The film's plot follows a group of people trapped inside an elevator that realize one of them is the Devil. The story opens with a voiceover from office-tower security guard, Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), who explains in voiceover how the devil likes to take out the souls he’s targeted, and that his appearance on Earth is heralded by a suicide. Next thing you know, someone has leaped from the skyscraper. Detective Bowden (played strongly by Chris Messina) is soon on the case and scene. Thus he’s there when five strangers wind up stuck in an elevator around the building’s 20th floor, and we already know that one of them is actually Satan in disguise, there to kill the rest of them in nasty, violent ways.
I thought the movie sounded really scary, primarily for two reasons; elevators really scare me – have done ever since I saw ‘The Omen 2: Damian’, also films about the Devil really scare me; have done ever since I saw ‘The Exorcist.’ Add on top of this - a skyscraper, and a trapped lift with the Devil inside it, and I was expecting to be terrified. The film plays out much more like a thriller than a horror movie though, it doesn’t even play on it’s strength’s like ‘The Omen’ or ‘The Exorcist’ did, by taking advantage of people’s fears of the Devil. It didn’t take advantage of the fear of being trapped in an elevator on the 20th floor either really. It did however, keep the interest and group paranoia up.
It’s possible that any one of the trapped five could call hell home, since they’re not an especially nice lot, which is the moral of the story though. There’s smarmy and annoying salesman Vince (Geoffrey Arend), claustrophobic suffering and stereotypically hot-tempered alpha male, security guard, Ben (Bokeem Woodbine), Jane, an annoying snappish older woman (Jenny O’Hara), unusually quiet mechanic, Tony (played very well by Logan Marshall-Green - who kinda steals the show), and a young woman named Sarah (Bojana Novakovic), who comes across as the sanest of the bunch, but also the most dull.
None of them command much sympathy and not much character building is allowed due to the films short running time, and so it’s hard to guess which one is actually The Devil.
Director John Erick Dowdle and screenwriter Brian Nelson could, and should, have built up the situation the four strangers in the lift have with each other more. Their paranoia, their characterization and their fears would have been great to watch play out even more. The film cuts away a lot to the police trying to sort the problem of the broken lift and the strange death’s which keep happening every time the lights flicker out.
This is a PG13 supernatural thriller/horror – so it’s not carnage candy by a long shot – but the death scenes are shocking and the film does manage to build to a creepy crescendo. As one by one the group in the lift starts to die, the paranoia increases and the film gets more interesting. It’s just a shame they weren’t in a glass elevator on the outside of a building – really high – at night. Now that would have made the entire film a lot scarier in my book.
It’s a good film which keeps you guessing who the Devil is right up to the end – the ending is actually really creepy surprisingly too – when The Devil reveals himself. This thriller is worth a watch, but it’s not as horrific as most horror fans would hope for. It’s also great to watch an original horror piece these days – so that was another plus for the movie. I’ll be watching this again to see if there are any “tell-tale-signs” on second glance.