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By Megan Lane · September 21, 2010
Nobody wants to be that high-maintenance girl who calls her boyfriend at eleven o’clock at night to come keep her company because she’s too scared to go to sleep because the Devil might get her. And this weekend, I’m ashamed to admit, that girl was me. I’m also ashamed to admit this is not the first time something like this has happened. When I saw The Sixth Sense (1999), I slept with my mom for four days. During The Descent (2005), I actually threw my popcorn in the air I was so scared. And by the time Orphan (2009) came out, I was smart enough to know I should only see matinees of thrillers so when it lets out there are still four hours of daylight remaining. Why do I keep subjecting myself to myself to this? Because I love to be scared (and I’m probably a little bit of a masochist). Plus, I really didn’t think M. Night Shyamalan had it in him anymore.
Devil follows the story of five strangers stuck in an elevator together. They begin to realize that someone among them is the Devil and slowly killing them one by one. On the outside, a detective (Chris Messina) must figure out what is going on and how to rescue them. It’s your basic contained thriller with that super natural twist.
The biggest problem with the movie is the fact that it had M. Night Shyamalan as a producer. Unfortunately for him, his first film, The Sixth Sense (1999) was perfect. Seriously, there is nothing wrong with that movie; and there are very few films I can say that about. Because of that, everything he’s done since will be tainted. Now don’t get me wrong, Signs (2002) was awful, Lady in the Water (2006) was worse, and in The Happening (2008) the villain was actually moist air. He’s definitely dropped the ball.
Perhaps it is the fact that Shyamalan only wrote the story and produced (rather than controlling the picture in a way that would rival Orson Welles), but Devil was actually good. Writer Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night 2007) and director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine 2008) definitely brought something fresh and new to the table. If Devil had simply been a B-horror movie, I would have had nothing but good things to say. Still, because it has the Shyamalan name on it, and even though he’s had one hit and about five flops since then, every time I see one of his movies, it has that Sixth Sense taint on it. Nothing will ever beat that.
Still, Devil was quite good. You might think that a contained thriller in an elevator would get boring, but there is so much going on, so many side plots, there is hardly a chance during it’s short eighty minute run. The film itself truly captures the thriller genre; my ears were plugged for a good portion of it (P.S. I plug my ears when I get scared). However, what separated it from every other thriller out there is the actual story. It wasn’t simply a vehicle for gore. In fact, there was very little gore. It was what you didn’t see that was scary.
The story comes alive through the characters. The five characters in the elevator along with the detective are interesting because of their imperfection. Slowly but surely, it is discovered that each one has a past in which they did something to warrant going to hell. One is a liar, one is thief, etc.
However, much more time is spent on the devil myth rather than character. I would have liked to see that the other way around. Much like Lady In The Water, the story is based on a childhood myth that the Devil is among us and likes to torture people on Earth before taking them to hell with him. It begins with a suicide and then he takes on the appearance of a human. While the story was intriguing, I cannot imagine a world in which a mother might tell her child this story before putting him to bed. Throughout the movie, the exposition of the Devil myth feels overdone; the audience would have figured out the myth by simply watching the movie rather than listening to the first five minutes of voice-over.
Though I won’t share the ending, as it does have the typical M. Night twist, I can tell you that it is the most blatant plug for Catholicism I have ever seen. I felt like I should go straight from the theater to church. Instead I called my boyfriend to come keep me safe from the Devil, which is actually the opposite of what Catholicism probably wanted, but still.
I’m not going to say M. Night is back, but with the help of an actual crew, he is at least heading in the right direction.
2.5 Out Of 4 Pitchforks.