'Devil' delivers close-quartered thrills
"From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" seems more like a threat than a credit.
Judging by the audible groans and curses at the time, this seemed to be the audience consensus when the Devil trailer first premiered.
Maybe it's because Shyamalan (The Last Airbender) didn't direct, more so because he didn't write, and further more because he apparently only conceived of the story, but Devil is a surprisingly tense thriller in the vein of horror-meets-whodunnit.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine), Devil is a terse little film. At a meager 80 minutes, it manages to pack plenty of suspense and mood in a clever premise that grows creepier by the minute.
From the opening credits, with its sweeping upside-down journey through the Philadelphia skyline, the audience knows something is amiss.
And then they meet the characters - a detective with a troubled past (Chris Messina, Greenberg), a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green, Across the Universe), an old woman (Jenny O'Hara, Extract), a young woman (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me to Hell), a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine, Black Dynamite) and a salesman (Geoffrey Arend, 500 Days of Summer).
The detective is investigating a suicide at a downtown skyscraper, when he learns something foul is afoot in elevator No. 6. It would appear the elevator's stuck in the 20-somethings with the latter five people aboard.
As standard rescue attempts prove futile and the passengers grow cautious and caustic, due to equal parts paranoia and repetitive elevator music, a power shortage plunges them into darkness.
The lights return to reveal that one of them has been brutally murdered. Watching the events transpire via security camera, the detective and building security now must race against time to unmask and catch the killer before his or her fellow passengers meet a similar, gruesome fate.
But, as earlier suggested, things aren't quite as they seem. Security guard (and part-time narrator) Ramirez (Jacob Vargas, Death Race) catches a terrifying glimpse of something quite out of the ordinary, causing him to think something supernatural is at work - a devil's meeting, in which the devil himself torments a small group of sinners before claiming their souls and revealing himself.
As the body count rises and the circumstances grow more peculiar, the detective is torn between rationality and Ramirez's religious explanation. In the elevator, however, it becomes clear that its passengers aren't the kindest of people - each with a considerably disturbing past and potential motive for the slayings.
They quickly begin to turn on each other, as the detective carries out an intensive investigation while trying to keep the surviving passengers peacefully at bay.
Devil is almost Hitchcockian in its setup - a small, contained set with an equally minimal cast of characters, in which the setting also becomes a character. Dowdle's direction maintains a spooky, claustrophobic mood throughout that's not so much about surprise jumps and loud noises than it is building suspense (no pun intended).
In typical Shyamalan fashion, Devil also packs a twist - it's technically a Shyamalan film that doesn't stink. Though a little contrived and sometimes preachy, Devil's original premise and quick pace make for one hell of a ride.
Devil, rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language, including sexual references, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.