REVIEW: Devil [2010]

“We are the audience for a reason”

It all starts with a suicide—a death to allow easy passage of the Devil to the real world, giving him human form to make those he’s about to collect suffer a public, horrific demise. The first of a planned series in suspense horror called the Night Chronicles, M. Night Shyamalan plays on his bedtime story concept of Lady in the Water, crafting a tale of man’s capacity for evil and the weight of guilt standing in the way of accepting the consequences for crimes committed. Devil is not a Shyamalan film, however, as his story idea was put into the hands of writer Brian Nelson and director John Erick Dowdle, both artists who have worked in the genre throughout their short careers. Couple their talents with a cast of ‘those guys’ type actors—all familiar if their names elude us—and you get a pretty taut thriller despite the unavoidable conventions and oddly coincidental relationships between the characters.

The idea of destiny plays a large role helping suspend any disbelief towards the little package wrapped with a bow in a stalled elevator car 20-floors up an office building in Philadelphia. Jacob Vargas’s security guard narrates the film as though it belongs in the same canon as a bedtime story he was told as a child. Very religious, Vargas has no problems believing that a grainy still frame of video footage from the elevator car shows the face of Satan, mocking those who watch and readying them for a display of karmic retribution to instill the kernel of thought that his existence isn’t the stuff of campfire tales. Knowing the story well, this security guard also is fully conscious that everyone involved was chosen for a specific reason, whether bad people in need of punishment, good hearts in attendance to show the power of evil only exists with its mirrored opposite on the other side, or dark souls on the brink of their own downfall with connections to the proceedings that no one could have imagined.

Having the Devil close by means everything that could go wrong will—a jellied piece of toast falling sticky side down or an electrical line just far enough away to cause someone to stretch an inch further into the pool of water beneath it. Even the suicide that begins everything plays its role as a Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs to put Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) into the control room of this skyscraper. It’s a right/wrong place at the right/wrong time type scenario as his jumper two blocks away pushes him into a front row seat at the Devil’s theatrical revue of death. The powder keg of a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green), a rich girl (Bojana Novakovic), a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a temp security guard (Bokeen Woodbine), and a cranky old woman (Jenny O’Hara) has just begun to fill up with paranoia and aggression, a well-timed blackout minutes away from causing the first murder as well as the game of suspicion passed around as these five strangers with nowhere to go lose control.

To go into detail as far as what happens will ruin the suspense that is much more palpable than I could have anticipated, especially at the end with the final two survivors engaged in a tense standoff, shards of mirror ready to strike. I’ll just say that characters die, both inside the elevator and out. The Devil needs these handpicked souls to remain inside until his show is complete, so anyone attempting to break in or cause a disturbance becomes collateral damage in unfortunate mishaps of ‘bad luck’. It’s all PG-13, though, so don’t worry about an extreme amount of violence or gore—it just doesn’t exist. What makes the film worthwhile, in fact, is how most of the horrific acts appear off-screen, showing us only the aftermath, or in the dark, rendering the brutality audible as we watch a black screen. A brilliant device to cause fear, the less is more mentality surely helps in the effectiveness of what happens along with some really authentic performances from Woodbine, Marshall-Green, and Novakovic especially. These three help make a mediocre genre flick into a piece worthy of an audience.

Strong acting and competent storytelling isn’t enough these days, as horror needs a strong sense of visual style to be effective and set itself apart from the rest. Devil shows its flair right from the start in a memorable opening credit sequence of Philly architecture displayed upside-down, alluding to a flipped world of evil, much like a turned crucifix, the soaring camera adding plenty as we voyeuristically follow it along. The style is also apparent in the subtle use of blood and post-event aftermath like a burned up maintenance man or a car crash realistically depicted rather than extremely mangled metal and dismembered limbs strewn about. You need a sense of reality to keep the Devil is among us illusion whole. We as viewers could be stuck in an elevator as easily as the characters onscreen—no one is perfect; we have all done wrong. The moral of the story becomes how life and consequences always catch up. It’s better to come clean and own up to your actions once they occur, saving your victims’ a modicum of grief and your own guilty conscience from leading you onto a path of eternal damnation.

Devil 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Geoffrey Arend and Bojana Novakovic in Universal Pictures’ Devil (2010)
[2] (L to R) JOSH PEACE, CHRIS MESSINA, MATT CRAVEN and JACOB VARGAS in Universal Pictures’ supernatural thriller with M. Night Shyamalan’s signature touch, “Devil”. In the film, a group of people is trapped in the elevator, and one of them is the devil. Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes / Universal Pictures. ©2011 Universal Studios
[3] Bojana Novakovic in Universal Pictures’ Devil (2010)

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