M Night Shyamalan is possibly the most inconsistent film maker in recent memory. Although his films rely heavily on the “big twist”, it doesn’t always pay off. Take for example the excellent The Sixth Sense (turns out Bruce Willis is female) and his follow up Unbreakable (they break). But then there’s the ridiculous The Village, and one of the the worst films I’ve ever seen, The Happening. Just a few months ago, his most recent directorial attempt The Last Airbender was a critical and box office failure, so it was no surprise when the first trailer for this arrived that when “From The Mind of M. Night Shyamalan” showed up on screen, it was met with both groans and guffaws. Thankfully, the story side of his mind is infinitely greater than his declining directing skills.
Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) is called to a suicide incident after a “jumper” from the 34th floor of an office building. Meanwhile 5 strangers get into a lift, who all have a criminal past, that is located in the same building the suicide took place: a compulsive theif, a mattress salesman who ruined a lot of lives through a ponzi scheme, a violent temp security guard, a former soldier and a greedy heiress make up the “colourful” characters that are the focus of the movie.
Not long after their elevatorial ascent (no, that’s not a word. But it should be) starts, it gets stuck between floors. Then the lights go out, and the heiress, Sarah, gets attacked. The others suspect the suspicious acting mattress salesman, Vince, is responsible. But tit quickly becomes apparent that it wasn’t him, and events unfold that lead to Detective Bowdens involvement. But it dawns on him that it’s going to take more than excellent police work if any of the elevator passengers are to get out of their ordeal alive…
About 2 weeks before I saw this, I watched a movie with a very similar premise: 5 people stuck in a lift who all seem to have a past they’d like to hide. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was about as entertaining as a 3 hour lecture on the history of tarmac production. Knowing I was going to see Devil, I was a little put off. I mean really, how can a story predominantly set in one location, such as a coffin, be even remotely memorable? Thankfully, Devil surpassed my admittedly “low” to “mildly interested” expectations and is a hugely enjoyable mystery thriller with a narrative twist that isn’t plainly obvious.
On the topic of scares, it’s not a “jump out of your seat” horror, but does have tense moments. They don’t occur frequently, and don’t last very long, but they’re there; for example a well filmed scene involving a rooftop and a hat flying off a maintenance mans head. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve its UK age certificate of 15; blood, gore and general nastiness are aplenty here. In the US it was actually classified as a PG-13, which isn’t particularly surprising as Americans have now become so desensitised to violence, I half expect to see A Nightmare On Elm Street as the midday movie on The Disney Channel.
With acceptable performances from all involved and a stunningly unique but head slappingly simple opening sequence, Devil may just be the film that rehabilitates Shyamalans slightly tarnished reputation. But can we ever forgive him for The Happening? I’ll decide when I’ve seen the other two in this trilogy, known as “The Night Chronicles”. But if this is anything to go by, it’s got off to a devilishly good start.