Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Devil - Home Video Review

Release Date: September 17, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370
Picture Quality: High-Definition
Sound Quality: High-Definition

Loves: The "5 strangers trapped together" premise
Neutral: Movies built around a gimmick
Hates: M. Night Shylaman
Surprised: That this was actually a decent movie

I will forgo any discussion about M. Night Shyamalan's involvement with this film until the end of this review because that is a can of worms I would like to separate from the actual film experience itself as much as possible. With that being said, this film is based off an "idea from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" and was directed by John Erick Dowdle whom is no stranger when it comes to this type of material. The film, if you haven't already guessed from the title, deals with the Devil. A voiceover informs us in a storyteller like fashion about how sometimes when a person takes their own life there is sometimes an instance shortly after nearby where a group of people mysteriously die off one by one. The force behind this is not some second rate demon, oh no, it is none other than the Devil himself who is here among us to take to hell with him some naughty souls for souvenirs....after he tortures the shit out of them first that is.

We are thrown into the mix fairly quickly after the effectively disorienting opening credit sequence comprised of shots of the city seen upside down. A body lands on top of a truck in the middle of downtown and appears to be a suicide from one of the nearby highrises. Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) is dispatched to the scene where he tries to make heads or tails of what happened and more importantly "where" it happened. He quickly deduces that the truck the victim landed on had moved from where the impact occurred and when he traces it back to its origin he finds a massive highrise tower missing a window on one of its top floors.

That's one elevator they should have skipped on.

Unbeknownst to him though is that an elevator in that very same building currently has five strangers stuck in one of its elevators. These five individuals for all intents and purposes have no relation to one another and it appears as though they all just got on the wrong elevator that day. One of them is a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend) whom can't seem to stop belting out his sarcastic witticisms each time something weird or bad happens. Another is an older woman (Jenny O'Hara) that comes off as frightened and isn't afraid to throw out accusations. Then there is the mysterious guy that jumped on the elevator at the last second (Logan Marshall-Green), the claustrophobic temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine) and finally the seemingly innocent and fragile young woman (Bojana Novakovic) that is constantly stirring the pot.

Almost immediately the two security officers monitoring the elevators, Lustig (Matt Craven)
a seemingly rational type of man and his partner Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) who is the "believer" of the two (and our narrator as well) send the building engineer out to fix whatever has caused the elevator to stop. It isn't until both security officers start to see some strange things over their video feed such as the lights flickering off and on, a person being attacked, an overlaying image that looks like a face of some sort and the fact that no matter what they try to fix the elevator something always goes wrong (which is another prophecy that comes with this tale). They waste no time calling in the police and since Detective Bowden just so happens to be at that exact same building he is the one to answer the call. Once he arrives in the security office things in that elevator really start to spiral out of control.

Which one of them IS the Devil...?

I was pleasantly surprised by this film and not just because of the low expectations associated with M. Nights attachment to it but because it gets right to the point, gives you exactly what it sold itself as and doesn't let up until the end credits roll. It comes in at a tight 1 hour and 15 minutes and it doesn't waste one minute of that run time. Everything that is packed in here has a through line and an eventual payoff. One of the things that always irks me about these types of movies is how certain people involved in the story are always in the right place at the right time for whenever the situation calls for their particular know how, but somehow this film does it and doesn't feel forced.

A perfect example of this is the security officer Ramirez has a strong knowledge of all the crazy shit we are witnessing and informs the police (and us) every step of the way of why it is happening. Now, normally I would call BS on a character like that, being at the right job at the right time to give us all this information but the film sidesteps that by working his role into the myth itself. He tells us that when this happens everyone directly involved with the people being tormented by the Devil on that particular day have been chosen for a specific reason, him being the person to witness and explain the events that occur is his role and everyone elses roles are revealed as the film plays out. And I still would have called the film on that one if it weren't for the fact that in the end everyone did have a specific purpose for being involved and it all fit perfectly (although the moment when Ramirez uses a piece of jelly covered toast to prove his point was a little on the silly side). 

Ramirez and Bowden look on with horror at the events unfolding before them.

OK, so yes this is a horror film and thus far I have neglected to mention any of the horror elements.  The reason for that is because I wouldn't want to let slip any details about what transpires in the actual elevator due to the fact that the amount enjoyment you will get from this film depends greatly on the surprises that await you. I can say though that I found the mind games of everyone trying to figure out who isn't who they say they are to be really well done. Each time those lights would start to flicker I couldn't help but get tensed up, it was similar to the feeling one gets at the height of a huge drop for a roller coaster where you just wanna grab on to something and pray for dear life. Anyone looking for a horror film that gets under your skin will be quite pleased with what is offered here.

I was also happy to see that the acting was way above average from the usual level of quality associated with this genre. All five of the principal actors locked away together in that elevator do a convincing job of selling how each of their characters would handle themselves in that situation and when things get tense they each have their individual moments to shine (Ms. Novakovic has some set of pipes on her). Similar accolades go to everyone in the security control room whom are forced to react to things occurring on the small monitors over and over again and never once did any of it feel cheap. Special props go out to Mr. Messina as the lead detective, I found him to be the most engaging character in the whole film and Mr. Vargas had me believing fully in this unbelievable tale merely through his conviction every time he spun us a new element to this devilish tale.

Did I mention things get a little tense in that elevator?

Lastly I would like to talk real quick about that whole M. Night Shyamalan thing. I truly believe his name hurt any chances this film had of being a success. I remember when I saw a sold out midnight screening of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and one of the trailers that played was for Devil. Everyone seemed to be really into it as it played...until this came up on screen...

And then all of a sudden everyone starting yelling obscenities at the screen and taking the lords name in vain like there were no tomorrow. I knew right then that somehow M. Night had turned his own name into pure cinematic poison. No matter how good this film ended up being it would never be given a fair shake thanks to M. Night and his narcissistic ways.

Despite that though the film did turn out fairly well and is a rather effective little fun house of horrors. It is readily apparent that his "idea" was all that was used here. If he had directed it I am certain the actors would have had no emotion beyond seriousness and screams. If he had written it then we would not have had the cleverness of how the film currently treats its subject matter and we would have most certainly had a stupid twist ending somewhere in there (the reveal of the Devil isn't a twist if you have been waiting for it the whole time). So, completely put out of your mind that he had anything to do with this and enjoy it for what it is. Devil is a nice diversion and a solid entry into an overly cliched genre.



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