Sep 27, 2010

Posted in 2010s, Flicks by Decades, Ray, Reviewers

Devil (2010)

Devil (2010)

For many moviegoers, the very mention of M. Night Shyamalan in the trailers for Devil was enough to scare them off the movie.  It’s understandable; his last three movies have been epically awful, and even Signs (his last good movie) falls completely apart in the final reel.  The appearance of Shyamalan’s name was enough to send many audiences into derisive laughter.  But this time, fortune favors the bold and the forgiving, and those willing to overlook Shyamalan’s attachment are going to find Devil to be a fun, scary horror movie.  Best of all, is bears very little resemblance to Shyamalan’s own movies – he doesn’t make one of his usual grating, self-laudatory cameos.

In Devil, 5 characters, (identified as Salesman, Mechanic, Young Woman, Security Guard, and Old Woman) are stuck in an elevator.  That’s usually a bad enough experience, but this time around it’s worse than normal: strange things start to happen to the passengers, like one of them getting bitten.  Then the lights go out, and when they come back on, one of them is dead.  What they don’t know is that someone in the elevator may be the Devil himself, come to torment a group of sinners before whisking their souls off to hell.  We, however, do know this, thanks to the voice-overs of one of the building’s security guards, watching the elevator through the security camera.  In this case, ignorance is bliss: Devil works much better when it focuses on what’s happening in the elevator, when people are terrified and panicking and don’t know what’s going on, or when and if they’re getting out.  But when it leaves the tight confines of the elevator, all the air goes out of it.

It’s in those sequences that Devil makes a near-fatal mistake: it leans far too heavily on the Ramirez, the exposition-friendly security guard, who believes notices that the day’s events bear a striking similarity to the religious stories his mother used to tell him, and makes the completely rational decision that the devil is indeed masquerading as a human being to torture some people and claim their souls.  Yes, that is what’s actually happening, but it sounds so ridiculous that every time he begins talking about what the devil’s plan is, and how no one can actually help them, it destroys the tension that’s been building up.  Pretty much every time Ramirez opens his mouth to start delivering another line, the audience at the screening I went to laughed.  It’s not a bad thing for a horror movie to have a few jokes, but these aren’t jokes, and they’re not meant to be funny.

Outside of that one gaping, grating flaw, Devil is a pretty good time.  When it stays in the elevator, it stays nice and tense.  But when it leaves that little box and spells out for us what’s going on, it keeps shooting itself in the foot.  The elements for a really good movie are there – confined space, inexplicable goings-on, paranoia – but Devil falters so badly with the frequent exposition that it barely recovers.  By the end of the movie, you don’t care that the security guard is right.  You’ve grown so tired of him that you’re hoping he’s next.

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