Most people walking into Devil will be going in with some kind of opinion already due to the name M. Night Shyamalan. Thanks to the director’s most recent films (The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening), most of the baggage attached to his name is not positive. Although the director has yet to make a film that grabs audiences the way The Sixth Sense did, Shyamalan still pushes himself to come up with new ideas in an attempt to satisfy genre fans. Well, after years of inconsistent films and forced twist endings, the director has conceived a story that left this viewer surprisingly satisfied. Handing over the idea to a different writer and director may have been the smartest thing Shyamalan could have done. Amid the recent barrage of “exploitation” and throw-back films (Piranha 3-D, Machete, the upcoming Hatchet II), Devil sneaks in as an effective murder-mystery that delivers the thrills you might not expect.
Just as the trailers have shown, Devil begins with a seemingly random group of people as they struggle to survive together in an enclosed elevator. This group of five slowly begins to dwindle as a detective begins to uncover facts about each of their lives. Stemming from an idea by Shyamalan, Brian Nelson (writer of 30 Days of Night and Hard Candy) has crafted an intriguing story that balances the tension in the elevator and the police investigation extremely well. John Erik Dowdle (Quarantine) has done a great job directing the film with a feeling of tense urgency and extracting great performances from every actor involved. Honestly, there isn’t a weak actor in the bunch. The standout performance for me was Chris Messina as Detective Bowden. Unlike most tough-guy, “flashy” cop performances, Messina gives a more understated performance that could have gone way over-the-top. Another element I appreciated was the use of an original score. Though at times it comes off as a homage to Hitchcock (especially evident in the opening title sequence), most of the times it is used in more subtle ways that amps up the pace of the film. Instead of focusing on the blood and violence that seem inescapable in the elevator, Dowdle has crafted a film that focuses on the characters instead. A lot of films of this nature come across as boring in the hands of bad actors or from a weak script. Yet Devil moves at an excellent pace, and it is due to all of the elements of a good murder-mystery falling into the right place. Besides a couple of unnecessary CGI shots of a storm forming outside, there is a heavy-handed use of a moral narrator that I could have done without. Although it only happens about five times, the narrator tells an old folk tale about the devil that takes you out of the story instead of adding to the film. Neither of these two things are enough to not recommend this effective thriller. By the time the closing credits began, I couldn’t help but think about how refreshing it was to see an original story told. So often we go into theaters expecting a loud, visual assault of the senses, and we forget about the power of good storytelling. Devil reminds us that we don’t need 3-D or buckets of blood to have a creepy good time at the theater.