Director: John Erik Dowdle.
Writer: Brian Nelson.
On a particularly gloomy day in Philadelphia, five unrelated people get trapped in an office building elevator. As the security teams, and a jaded cop, watch them on a camera and try to get to them out, the group of five find themselves being picked off one-by-one. Someone in that elevator is not who they say they are. Is The Devil in disguise?
M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation has taken some heavy knocks over the last few years, and most of them somewhat deservedly. The writer and director was cursed by a stunning debut, The Sixth Sense, which he has struggled to live up to. The grossly self-indulgent The Lady in the Water marked the end of Shyamalan’s honeymoon period with Hollywood, and neither the foolish The Happening or The Last Airbender have done much to repair the damage. Still, Universal have made much of his involvement in Devil, a film for which he has only a producer and story credit.
Devil hinges on a commonplace idea crammed into an unusual setting. You don’t have to dig very far to find movies concerning a group of people being murdered one-by-one, with the certainty that someone in the group is responsible. But squeezing that dynamic into a small metal box is inspired. Screenwriters will tell you that one of the hardest things to do is the single-location movie. It’s no mean feat keeping the audience interested in a story which never moves. So it’s to Devil’s credit that, despite its flaws, it never loses your interest. The action is split between the five people in the elevator and those working around the building to get them out, and while it never lingers too long in either setting, it would have been fascinating to see the story told only from the perspective of those trapped.
Movies which are confined this way rely heavily on the quality of the performances, and the cast of B-list actors more than hold their own. A genuine sense of claustrophobia and fear permeates the elevator scenes, as it becomes clear that any one of these people could be responsible for what is going on. There are a handful of effective scares and an unsettling atmosphere in places, but unfortunately Devil is not as terrifying as you might have hoped.
What really lets Devil down in the end is the occasionally clunky dialogue (‘You must consider that one of those people is The Devil’), and some dreadfully clumsy exposition in the form of a narrator relaying a story he was told as a child. It’s just a little too heavy-handed and spoils the intrigue.
Devil is not a wasted opportunity at all, it’s an effective horror movie built around a great idea. It just could have been a little scarier, and a little less eager to make sure we get what’s going on. That aside, if you’re looking for a supernatural thriller for a cold Saturday night, you could do a lot worse. After all, it’s a hell of a lot better than The Lady in the Water or The Happening.