Saturday, September 25, 2010

Elevator of Evil

I saw the first trailer for Devil at the Scott Pilgrim premiere. As the audience was full of too cool for school hipsters, the moment producer M. Night Shyamalan's name appeared on the screen, a chorus of boos rang out. As I discussed previously, I actually like several of Shyamalan's films. I do understand the rancor, however, considering his career seems like it is in free fall, as of late.

The common misconception about Devil is that Shyamalan is the writer/director, as he is with his other films. He is actually just the producer; the film is part of his "Night Chronicles", a "Twilight Zone"-esque anthology film series that appears to be an attempt to resuscitate his flagging career. The film's writer is Brian Nelson (writer of the excellent 30 Days of Night) and it is directed by John Erick Dowdle (director of the moderately well-received Quarantine, a remake of wildly popular Spanish horror flick, REC) Shyamalan's influence is definitely present, but I think having other writers and directors tackle these films is the way to go. I can usually see his twists coming (even the "shocking" Bruce Willis is actually dead plot twist in The Sixth Sense), but this film kept me guessing until the very end. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the movie would throw me another curve ball. Both Nelson and Dowdle should be congratulated on their ability to surprise audiences.

Devil is the story of Detective Bowden, a recovering alcoholic who is called to a series of strange crime scenes in the same area. A person commits suicide by jumping through a skyscraper window and in the same building, five strangers are stuck in an elevator. One of the passengers gets hurt, and one by one the riders begin dying. It is up to Bowden to figure out who is the killer.

The film is shot in a way that complements its setting. The cinematography is slick and minimalist, and the violence is nonexistent. Everything happens off-screen. This is necessary to keep the killer's identity a secret, but also works to help build up the tension. As an audience, you can only hear scuffling and the violence is not shown until the lights flicker back on and the next victim is revealed.

Several reviews of the film have complained about the lack of "true" scares and the simplistic message. However, if you view the movie in the context of its predecessors (sci-fi anthology series like "Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits"), it makes a brilliant homage. The point of those shows wasn't to terrify their audiences, it was to teach them a lesson while creating an uneasy, paranoid feeling at the same time. Devil does this beautifully. Even the plot is reminiscent of old anthology shows, because it takes a plausible premise (5 people stuck in an elevator) and throws in a supernatural element (one of them may or may not be the Devil). And shows like "Twilight Zone" always had a simplistic moral. They were cautionary tales with a sci-fi twist, and in case you missed the message, Rod Serling was there to tell you exactly what it was.

That being said, I found the ending of Devil very unnerving. In fact, it has PG-13 rating, but I would consider it a "hard" PG-13. (Also known as "No non-existent 13 year old of mine is watching that movie!")

Devil is a solid film, and I look forward to seeing the next "Night Chronicles" installment. I highly reccommend horror fans (and those who love "Twilight Zone") see it in the theater, but other viewers should wait until it hits stores and Netflix before checking it out. I think that the darkened theater element definitely heightens the scare, but for those who don't like horror (or the dark), watch it with the lights on in the safety of your living room.

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