Director: John Erick Dowdle
Writer(s): Brian Nelson
Studio: Universal Pictures
Box Office: $62.7m
Release Date: 17th September, 2010
IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Chris Messina – Detective Bowden
Logan Marshall-Green – Mechanic
Jenny O’Hara – Old Woman
Bojana Novakovic – Young Woman
Bokeem Woodbine – Guard
Geoffrey Arend – Salesman
Jacob Vargas – Ramirez
Matt Craven – Lustig
Plot According to Google: Five strangers’ day begins with an elevator ride in a Philadelphia office tower. But, what happens next is anything but ordinary. The elevator gets stuck, and the trapped passengers, who expected to be together just a few minutes, now face the revelation of their secrets and transgressions. Frightening events turn annoyance into terror, as they begin to realise that one of their number is Lucifer himself.
Inertia’s Insight: Shyamalan is the marmite of the film world. His debut film The Sixth Sense and its shocking twist was the second most talked about subject in 1999 behind the fabled Millennium bug; he followed it up with the impressive and atmospheric films Unbreakable and Signs. Then things went a little bit wrong for old Night. The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening seemed to undo his previous efforts with a trio of questionable and self-indulgent films that failed to hit the mark that only he appeared to be able to see. And so with Devil, the first film in the planned The Night Chronicles (that is now no more), Night has handed the reigns to a different screenwriter and director. Relinquishing his creative control may just be the best decision he could have made to make this film the jolting thriller that it is.
The opening credits are a nauseous subversion of normality, with a Jaws-like score that makes you feel unsettled and ready for something out of the ordinary. The score is unnervingly genius, the loud horns sudden and brash. Security guard Ramirez narrates the fable of the devil’s excursions to Earth to seek out sinners and pit them against each other in a confined environment with the last remaining person will die in front of their loved one; Ramirez states that the devil’s arrival is marked by a suicide, as a man lands on top of a vehicle position outside of a faceless building in downtown Philadelphia.
In steps Detective Bowden to investigate the suicide which leads him right into the devil’s playground. A recovering alcoholic who lost his wife and son in an unsolved hit and run five years ago, Bowden appears the archetypal cop-with-a-grudge when we first see him: chatting to his sponsor, the shadow on his face a little later than 9 o’ clock, he’s a man carrying a burden but it serves a purpose. The hint of a relationship with a colleague reveals a glint in his eye re-awakening after laying dormant for some time. Chris Messina nails the part of Detective Bowden, taking him from stock character cop to a human carrying feelings that the devil can play with.
Meanwhile, five strangers enter a lift in the same building that Detective Bowden is currently investigating. Five strangers, five different floors: the cocky salesman, the old lady, the mechanic, the guard and the young woman. Shortly after entering the lift it breaks down, and what starts as nothing more than annoyance at this inconvenience ends in bloodshed.
John Erick Dowdle contains the suspense inside the lift (elevator to my friends abroad), even using a first person perspective as suspicion builds. The security can see but not hear those inside the lift; those inside the lift can only hear but not see the security guards. The paranoia evolves gradually – each time the light goes off in the lift, something happens. At first, its a suggestion, a hint that something is off, building tension and distrust between these strangers. The insinuation that the cocky salesman groped the young woman, or growing suspicion between the mechanic and the guard. The panic builds as the security guards and eventually Detective Bowden try to calm the situation, desperate to get the lift going again as the lights dim and the first murder happens…
As the murders begin, you can see that Devil isn’t without the M. Night shadow. The film becomes a whodunnit, twisting each time you think you’ve nailed it. At first it’s easy to think that perhaps it’s not the devil at play after all, just merely a human capable of terrible acts but with Ramirez’s superstition and the sound effects inside the lift once the lights go out, it soon becomes a convincing case of the supernatural. Not a whodunnit anymore, but a who is it?
With each death, Bowden and his allies begin to believe in Ramirez’s story, and whilst not exactly accepting the fact that they are pawns in the devil’s little game, there is a spiritual acceptance that transcends Bowden’s persona from stock character to someone you can genuinely believe in.
The reveal is a perfectly executed piece of horror cinema, the angle of the shot expertly placed to give the audience a sense of foreboding before the revelation. It’s a well executed film from Dowdle, who would go on to direct the impressive found footage film As Above, So Below.
Devil reminds me of a short story, and The Night Chronicles would have been a great anthology series had Devil been more financially successful. Sadly, as the movie world is dominated by financial success, we may never see the continuation of this series of films. Nevertheless, as a standalone film, Devil is a worthy entry.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *
- The inspiration for the film comes from the folktale “The Devil’s Meeting”, in which the Devil roams the earth in himan form torturing the living. The film mentions the folktale at the start, as told by Ramirez.
- All give characters who get on the elevator have the colour red in common: the Mechanic’s satchel, the Old Woman’s hair, the Young Woman’s nails, the insignia on the Guard’s uniform, and the Salesman’s tie – all red.
- Agatha Christie was an influence on the film, particularly the 1939 novel, “And Then There Were None”.
RAMIREZ: When I was a child, my Mother would tell me a story about how the Devil roams the Earth. Sometimes, she said, he would take human form so he could punish the damned on Earth before claiming their souls. The ones he chose would be gathered together and tortured as he hid amongst them, pretending to be one of them. I always believed my Mother was telling me an old wive’s tale.
RAMIREZ: You’re never going to get these people to see themselves as they really are, ’cause its the lies we tell ourselves, they introduce us to him.
All images courtesy of Google
Tomorrow: Night #8 – Last Shift (2014)