There are few filmmakers as frustrating as M. Night Shyamalan. When he’s good, he can shock and awe but when he’s bad he feels like a rip-off of himself. Someone trying to capture a magic that they don’t understand. While Devil didn’t come under his direction – that joy goes to John Erick Dowdle – it does come from his script and his fingers are all over it.
The premise is pretty simple, but if you at all struggle with it, that’s fine, because there’s a handy voiceover to explain everything. The film starts with a suicide, a man throwing himself from the window of a skyscraper. That might seem significant but it’s quickly brushed aside, no one appears to care that much about him because a group of people get stuck in a lift. Normal enough, until they start dying.
Which is an interesting premise. It’s all a bit Agatha Christie as the detectives on the outside try to figure out who is doing the killing. The problem is we know who is doing the killing. The Devil. Our handy voiceover bloke has explained that for us, therefore, removing any tension that the film might have had.
Of course, there’s a twist. I mean it’s not a good twist, but it’s there, and it has a bunch of wooden performances right alongside it. I have to admit I spent most of the film wondering what had happened to Tom Hardy and have only just discovered that it wasn’t Tom Hardy but Logan Marshall-Green whose resemblance to Mad Max has to be the most extraordinary thing about this film. I mean that shit is weird.
The problem is that we never care. We don’t care about the detective investigating the case (Chris Messina), and we don’t care about what sins the people in the lift have committed to have the Devil put them in this chore of a movie. There are no stakes here because the characters are so paper thin that they amount to obnoxious businessman, old woman, pretty young girl, security guard and grizzled war vet. Do I know anything more about them? No. Do I care? Well, you already know the answer to that.
There is half of a good idea in Devil. Some of the scenes where the lights turn out and we have to guess what is happening by the noises in the lift or the occasional flash of light circle the drain of fear but never quite manage to find the plug. With a better script and a more exciting director, you could have maybe found a film here. The problem is neither of those things exists. Instead, we are left with a Shyamalan film that bears more resemblance to The Last Airbender than The Sixth Sense.
Verdict: Hall of Shame
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