Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Devil" (2010)

M. Night Shyamalan may no longer be able to aptly write or direct a movie, but there's no denying he's a good storyteller. In perhaps what it could be considered an attempt to reinvent his image, "Devil" is the first entry in a planned series of movies being called the Night Chronicles which are produced by Shyamalan and stem from his original story ideas. He comes up with the story and has others do the work. So, while this first feature, "Devil," has direction from Drew Dowdle ("Quarantine") and a screenplay from Brian Nelson ("30 Days of Night"), the story comes from the mind of Shyamalan, and as a result the movie will more than likely still be placed on his reputation. It's a good thing, then, that this movie doesn't suck.

The premise is intriguing: a group of five strangers get stuck in an elevator inside a high-rise office building only to then be tormented by one of their own who may or may not be the devil himself. Equally intriguing is the deliciously ominous opening credits panning across an upside-down Philadelphia skyline which is fittingly unsettling. This initial intrigue expands beyond just the setup as there's actually a lot more to the story than just what the trailers hint at and qualifies this little movie as an effective claustrophobic thriller, a tightly-wound one boasting an efficient script and brisk pacing within a 80-minute running time.

The elevator inhabitants all have one thing in common, and it's that they're all sinners. The story goes that the devil takes human form and torments the damned before claiming someone as his own. There's a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Armend), a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), an ex-Marine (Logan Marshall-Green), a beautiful businesswoman (Bojana Novakovic) and an older lady (Jenny O'Hara). Their time on the elevator together leads to rising tempers, skepticism and terror. The inhabitants are offed one by one in increasingly gruesome ways, but who's to blame? The most important character in the matter is actually one not shown in the trailers. He's Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), and he's dedicated to rescuing the trapped victims.

None of it is particularly scary, but it does maintain an uncomfortable level of suspense and tension that keeps you on edge without the use of any gratuitous violence or gore. The jolts come from some creative camera work and a nerve-racking use of darkness as the elevator goes pitch black at the most inconvenient of moments. The twist ending--yes, of course there's a twist ending--is a bit of a cheat but easy to forgive considering the circumstances. And don't dwell too much on the film's blatant musings on religion, fate and redemption. Just enjoy the tantalizing fun the premise of "Devil" promises and, for the most part, delivers.

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