A wildly-unpredictable supernatural thriller of mistaken [ominous] identity with a brilliant trapped-in-elevator premise, intricacy in claustrophobic whodunit, quick-cut pacing, booming cello-laden score, and classically-Shyamalan plot-twist ending. 8.5/10.
Plot Synopsis: Five strangers’ day begins with an elevator ride in a Philadelphia office tower. But, what happens next is anything but ordinary. The elevator gets stuck, and the trapped passengers, who expected to be together just a few minutes, now face the revelation of their secrets and transgressions. Frightening events turn annoyance into terror, as they begin to realize that one of their number is Lucifer himself.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: M. Night Shyamalan. While the Mahé-Indian guru’s filmography varies wildly from masterful outings like Unbreakable and Sixth Sense to All-Time awful ones like After Earth and The Last Airbender, one thing’s for sure in any film his name’s attached to: it’s going to be an unpredictable ride of volatile intemperance. Same is true for his newest written/produced-work Devil, one of the most inventive whodunits of this year and a must-see for diehards or just anyone looking for that lost feeling of surprise in filmmaking. A wildly-unpredictable, paranoiac thriller where someone isn’t who they say they are with a brilliant trapped-in-elevator premise, intricacy in claustrophobic whodunit, quick-cut pacing, ominous booming cello-laden score, and classic Shyamalan twist ending, Devil is a bloody good time stuck in an elevator.
The idea and screenplay. Easily what’s the biggest highlight of Devil is its religion-steeped idea also aiming to make us afraid of eanother veryday thing like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Jaws, and many other films have done masterfully before: elevators. The premise of five strangers being trapped between floors on an elevator with the Evil One himself as lurks as one of them planting the seeds and laying the framework for their destruction and paranoia through mind games is absolutely *brilliant*. This is the level of imagination we need in modern filmmaking comparatively stale to older offerings, and what M. Night – warts and all filmographically – brings to the table. Shyamalan’s idea and power of Old Testament-origins lends itself to tons of possibility in screenplay and characterization the film exploits, picking 4-5 people who have done horrible things in life unapologetically just waiting for the spiritual slaughter by the original/existential Michael Myers as we’re taken on a nice tour through classically-rooted whodunit construct wherein someone isn’t who they say there, this one with bigger stakes than almost any other you’ve seen. It’s like a pseudo-slasher noir – with an inventive plot structure in old-wives’-tale-mirroring-real-life narrated by a third-party bystander – with the darkest endgame imaginable: taking of souls to eternal suffering in brutal, bludgeoning lights-out fashion as the coffin box-sized snare starts to fill up with bodies as the ultimate adversary picks them off one-by-one.
The characters and turns. The cast of characters established is not bad managing to (mostly) avoid slasher/whodunit traps with some fine characterization as the mystery unfurls. We are introduced to each character and learn of their wrongdoings as part of the makeshift-audience of security guards watching all this real-life chaos unravel in real-time, shaking up things plot-wise where we’re just as much in the dark as the people supposed-to-be solving the mystery not knowing who these people are and why they’re here until his plan is revealed little-by-little. The whole slew of performances is good with three key standouts: Logan Marshall-Green’s screen-stealing mechanic Janekowski, Bojana Novakovic’s pretty-eyed femme fatale I could’ve sworn was going to have.. a bigger role in the end (catch my drift? that smile fakeout), and of course O’Hara’s blood-curdling, black-eyed… in an INSANE classically-Shyamalan twist ending/reveal masterfully-set up to be purposely-impossible to see coming by the brilliant decision to fake us out into not believing the person could still be enacting terror after what we saw happened to them wholly delivering in *audible-gasp* electric shock value. The Bowden b-arc and final forgive is a nice touch as well adding a hint of sweet sentiment to all the ghastly murder as a display of strong character development wherein our family-less hero is taken on a (briskly-paced, nicely-timed, thrilling) 1hr20min-journey from faith-questioning and understandably-bitter/angry to hopeful and ultimately at peace by film’s end.
The score and setting. Finally, some small touches like the orchestral accompaniment and location choice deserve some praise. The cinematography and settings throughout the film hit the nail on the head in setting the stage for its premise. From its long shot opening tracking upside down around the city likely playing on its star-antagonist’s forced-descent from Heaven and re-ascenscion from beneath this day to play his game with these guinea pigs, the visuals work well with a beautiful swanky NYC-office building setting amongst a smog/cloud-riddled ominous sky that gets darker and darker as he readies for his arrival. Fernando Velazquez’s tick-tocking, energetically-booming cello-laden score is phenomenal creating an effectively-foreboding atmosphere of suspense and omen perfectly foreshadowing its sinister events in what should hopefully be a career-jumpstarter for him.
Flaws include Ramirez and a peculiarly-abrupt final note. Jacob Vargas’ Ramirez is pretty awful as really the only shaky character and performance to be found in the pack. His character could’ve been good as someone who remembered this type of event from family legends/stories and did something to help stop it, but he comes off ridiculous with how he delivers his (correct-diagnosis but ill-handled) assessment of the situation and does absolutely *nothing* to actually help or contribute to the situation besides a belabored ‘I told you so’ also having no connections to the victims and very little to add to the canvas to make you wonder why he’s featured so heavily with such a shaky actor choice as well? Also, the ending note – after that wild plot twist and satisfyingly-dark ending for its premise of the devil getting what he came for spare one retribution-saving from character/spiritual-development – is bizarrely.. abrupt. While I can agree with its main direction for ending on a lighter point turning people to God after witnessing all this unspeakable evil (a little tonally-incongruent in handling after the events just on display but I see why the merit of ending it with some hope), it feels like there was more to say and was cut out plus its shakily and awkwardly delivered as a final line by.. you guessed it: Vargas lacking the power and panache to end such a bludgeoning thrill ride as it deserved.
Overall, Devil is one of Shyamalan’s stronger-written projects that certainly doesn’t lack entertainment/shock value easily worth the price of admission. A wildly-unpredictable, paranoiac thriller where someone isn’t quite who they say the are – with a brilliant trapped-in-elevator premise, intricacy in claustrophobic whodunit, ominous booming cello-laden score, and classic M. Night-auterist twist ending – it’ll effectively persuade you to take the stairs for a while.
Official CLC Score: 8.5/10