(2010) director John Erick Dowdle
If you’re M. Night Shyamalan, you must not tune out the critics. Undaunted by increasingly bad reviews of his own films, Shyamalan has spread his film production footprint into what is termed “The Night Chronicles,” a new series of films that he produces that are made from his “ideas” (he’s credited as having conceived the story), then written and directed by collaborators. One assumes that he’s just got more stories than time and he wants to spread the love around.
Devil is the first of the “Night Chronicles” and features the kind of plot that Rod Serling might have made good use of on The Twilight Zone. Five strangers are stuck on an elevator in a skyscraper in Philadelphia. And one of them is the Devil in human form.
But Shyamalan is no Serling, there’s little wit in the ironies, and strangely a quite Puritanical religiosity to the story. We are told, in a very leading and tedious voiceover narration, that the Devil is known to come to Earth in human form to torture some sinners that he’s about to take to Hell before he kills them. This is chalked up to a traditional folklore.
But the people are varying types of sinners, liars, cheats, blackmailers, manslaughterers, and the film treats their crimes as unforgivable (largely). As the horrified, helpless building people and police officers look on (via closed circuit television), the people start dying one by one as the lights flash off and they turn on one another, thinking that each other is the killer. Only an insanely superstitious security worker (who turns out to be the narrator) susses out that this is the Devil at work and seems to understand all this chaos and strange shennanigans. It’s funny that he’s the voice of reason becuase (while he’s right within the story), he sounds like a super-kook who should perhaps be locked up.
The characters are fleshed out in deft though facile fashion. They are “types” with quick and easy back-stories to explain who they are and why they are there. And really, for as much flak as I am throwing at the story, the film is actually entertaining enough. It’s not poorly made. It is strangely judgmental and smug in its voice. And the “final twist” is pretty easy to see coming from a pretty early point.
The irony, perhaps, to paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, is that “Hell is other people,” especially the thought of being trapped on an elevator with them for who knows how long. Who needs the Devil, really?