wish adding some context to this review would somehow redeem
my time spent watching the irredeemable Devil.
Maybe by saying I was already kinda ticked that I had to
sit through eight trailers at what was touted as an “advanced
screening” that was supposed to start at 11:59 pm
and instead started at 12:22 am would justify the surly
taste in my cinematic palette after being subjected to this
banal attempt at Christian horror. I would like to be wrong
and let you know that this movie is worth your time….but
that is not the case.
Devil is cursed with two factors that ultimately
doom its chance at salvation. First, Universal Pictures
has decided to not only bump up its release date from February
of next year to right now, but with no advance screenings
for critics. It’s that good. Second, the film is being
marketed as “from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan,"
an audacious mind-boggling way to sell a film considering
that this is the same mind that dropped The Last Airbender
on us. Whoever slapped that line on the poster should be
Admittedly, the trailer may have sparked interest, but this
is more proof that trailers cannot be trusted. We already
know that they either show all the parts worth seeing or
contain scenes that never make the final cut. Who knows
what will happen with the next two installments of The Night
Chronicles? (Yes, unfortunately, this is the first of three.)
too bad, really, since the premise has a certain Twilight
Zone draw to it that could’ve provided a modern
creepy character-driven fable.
Five strangers walk into an elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper
as a foreboding storm builds along the horizon. It sounds
like the set-up for a joke, but these five are actually
the pawns in this macabre tale. There’s a shifty mechanic
(Logan Marshall-Green), a belligerent old lady (Jenny O’Hara),
a newly hired temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a sleazy
mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend) and a self-entitled woman
car comes to an abrupt halt midway up and it doesn’t
take long for them get irritable with each other as they
give in to their own fears. Soon the lights start to flicker
and then fade in and out altogether and then it becomes
obvious they are not alone. There is something in there
with them, attacking them, toying with them, making them
lash out at each other and taking them out one by one.
We are not the only witnesses to the happenings inside the
car. The elevator’s camera can apparently see everything
and is being monitored by the building security. Two guards,
the calm and concerned Lustig (Matt Craven) and the overtly
religious Vincent (Jacob Vargas), notice the car has stopped
and reads ”under maintainance." They attempt
to calm and assure the irritable passengers that help is
on the way. Though they can see and communicate to the passengers
on their monitors, they cannot hear them, making the situation
all the more frustrating for those trapped.
When one of the five is attacked from behind after a power
fade, the guards call the police. Outside dealing with an
apparent suicide jumper from the same building, Detective
Bowden (Chris Messina), answers the call and takes charge,
trying his best to rescue these five people before they
digging up some suspicious history on each individual, Bowden
soon realizes there’s more going on here than just
the instability of human nature. With no visual evidence
or natural explanation available to him, he’s inclined
to agree with the religious rantings of Vargas, who is certain
that Satan himself is toying with these trapped souls.
All they can do is watch the bloody body count rise in the
tight transport that has now become a death trap. It soon
becomes clear, though, that there may be a reason that Vargas
and Bowden are observing these tragic events together.
Shyamalan may not have directed this wanna-be B-movie thriller,
but it is clearly tainted by him. His trademark forced scares,
insulting exposition and pretentious, heavy-handed message
is present from start to finish.
the finish, where the message of forgiveness is hammered
into our already throbbing heads. It’s too bad that
screenwriter, Brian Nelson (co-writer of 30 Days of
Night) couldn’t filter the forced themes present
here and provide a script that would allow the audience
to work a little more, maybe even glean a revelation or
two from subtlety instead of the blunt drama that I was
It’s also a shame that this script doesn’t offer
more substance, since the movie’s flatness can’t
be blamed on the actors. They all seem quite capable, yet
they are subject here to a script that could have been written
by a Youth Group Leader possibly trying to urbanize a parable.
Unfortunately, the first mistake the screenwriters and director
John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) make is to include
a narrator that is compelled to walk us through the events
shot by shot. At first, the voice of the narrator sounded
to me like M. Night (which would not have surprised me),
but then it became clear that it is Vargas who is recollecting
a childhood story his mother told him.
story is a mysterious myth called The Devil’s Meeting,
in which the Devil appears to sinners and tortures them
before dragging them to Hell, always kicking off with a
suicide. An interesting idea but I could’ve done without
someone spelling that out for me. Maybe one of the trapped
passengers should have mentioned such a story as a way of
explaining their hellish situation.
At least, the Dowdle brothers manage to maintain the tension
for such a confined setting, making the most out of the
characters' short time in this elevator. This would have
been a stronger character examination if the camera didn’t
leave the elevator after the victims entered. We could have
been stuck in there with them instead of going back and
forth to Bowden and the guards.
Messina (Away We Go) is good as Bowden and his
character has a heart-wrenching emotional arc (which echoes
Shyamalan’s Signs), it feels like it takes
away from the attempt at terror inside the elevator. To
really sell something like inescapable entrapment, you have
to keep the audience trapped as well. The upcoming film
Buried gets it; why can’t these filmmakers?
Are there some shocks? Sure. But more often than not, the
audience will be chuckling instead of shrieking. It could
be that viewers have seen it all and they are hard to scare
in their seats but giving something intelligent, real and
well, frightening, always helps. It just feels like we’ve
seen all these characters before and that’s an important
factor since it’s people who often scare us more than
the settings in which they are in.
They say the devil is in the details but in this Devil,
the details are flimsy, flat and failed. No twist or misdirection
could have prevented such obviousness and each attempt to
outsmart the audience is just insulting. Maybe the film
required more than just 80 minutes to really sell such a
tale. Either that or strongly prune and edit the script
to deliver a taut, Alfred Hitchcock Presents feel
to really leave us with something to think about.
best Twilight Zone episodes, it is always difficult
to see right away who is the antagonist or what will be
learned by the protagonist. It is so frustrating that both
elements are all too obvious here. A mind is a terrible
thing to waste and if M. Night Shyamalan is insistent on
wasting our time with his, he can keep his mind to himself.
review also appears on David's own website,
Keeping It Reel.)