Ten years ago a picture from the mind of M .Night Shyamalan was something to be anticipated eagerly, but these days The Sixth Sense creator is more renowned for a series of recent clunkers and a complete ignorance toward his obvious artistic blunders. Now under his newly formed “Night Chronicles” label we have Devil, boasting an idea formed by Shyamalan but executed by other less familiar filmmaking talents. Devil isn’t as worthless a feature as some of Shyamalan’s more infamous fare, but it’s still an underwhelming and oddly lifeless start to the “Night Chronicles” cycle.
A sleazy salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a gold digger (Bojnan Novakovic), a sullen mechanic (Logan Marshall Green) and an uppity elderly woman (Jenny O’Hara) all find themselves stuck inside a malfunctioning lift. With the elevator stalled the group begin to chatter and bicker, only for the lights to start flickering and violence to ensue. As serious injuries are inflicted upon those in the lift, Police Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) tries to solve the case using CCTV, eventually coming to the conclusion that the supernatural is at work. With the help of religious security staff member Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), Bowden comes to accept that one of the people in the elevator is indeed Satan, and is slowly picking off the other panicked prisoners systematically.
Devil ultimately fails because it is neither tense nor scary; the film’s finest moments could only be described as mildly diverting at best. Director John Erick Dowdle mishandles the material rather spectacularly, opting for blacked out distortion and screaming rather than anything remotely visceral or disturbing. The picture also struggles to attain any real sense of confinement or spatial frustration for the character to endure, too regularly Devil cuts to the outside world, leaving the compact elevator setting as only a small fragment of the overall feature. This constant editorial jitterbugging undercuts the suspense massively, ensuring that audience members are never permitted the chance to settle down and absorb the failed attempts at creeping dread.
The characterization in Devil is for the most part very poor, only Chris Messina’s police detective is afforded any glimpse of relatable humanity. Messina is fairly effective in the role, mixing his screen entity’s tragic past and thirst for redemption into a decent performance. The other cast members are undone by weak writing, albeit their acting feels exceedingly generic and unimaginative. Bojnan Novakovic is particularly colourless, the actress reduced to incoherent screaming and cowering for the majority of the movie. It’s also worth noting that not one individual in the lift setting is agreeable or sympathetic, meaning that viewers are unlikely to care if they eventually fall victim to Lucifer. To top it all off the screenplay climaxes with a particularly sour line of dialogue, removing all essence of menace offered by the title character through a shallow message of religious hope and uncontrollable feel good optimism.
The mystery element is resolved adeptly, bringing a nasty reveal to the fore and a surprising degree of moral complexity. However with Devil reaching that point is a drag, the only other redeeming feature being a trippy and visually compelling opening credits sequence. Devil is certainly a sharper endeavour than recent Shyamalan tripe like The Happening, but that’s unbelievably faint praise. The premise here is deserving of better treatment than director Dowdle is willing to provide, the middle section in particular suffering from a potent lack of threat and a sustained tone of blandness. As far as high concept projects go Devil is extremely forgettable, and a disappointing opening chapter for the “Night Chronicles”.
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine
Runtime: 80 min