Devil (2010)

Claustrophobia is, thankfully, not something from which I suffer. That’s not to say I enjoy being stuck in small spaces, I just don’t go crazy when forced to do so. Being thrust headfirst into a pool of angry sharks, however, wouldn’t exactly be my idea of fun. In comparison, though, I’d much rather that than force myself to sit through Devil again. The film was written by M. Night Shyamalan, so right off the bat the audience knows to expect a twist somewhere towards the end. In this case, we must guess who, of six strangers stuck in a lift together is actually the Devil. Playing against type (not) is Chris Messina, whom is currently starring as the same character, albeit a doctor, not a cop, in The Mindy Project. Though it’s shocking he still gets work, in spite of always playing himself, Messina does, at the very least, seem more invested in this than in poor Mindy.

His tortured anti-hero is a recovering alcoholic, who lost his wife and child in a car crash and can’t get over it, so much so that he carries around a note, that was left at the scene, in his wallet (plot point ahoy). Detective Messina is called to a high-rise building after a supposed suicide, but becomes embroiled in a bizarre multiple homicide case, as a group of people, trapped in a suspended elevator, lose their minds and turn on each other, for no plausible reason. Satan may or may not be involved. Devil is an incredibly boring and predictable film, made even more tedious by the constant, monotone narration from one of the characters, a religious security guard, which is embarrassingly exposition-heavy. As the film opens, he intones, rather too seriously for this nonsense, how, as a child, his mother told him all about the Devil. Then, as the action, or lack thereof, progresses, he points out how each event slots neatly into the same story. If that wasn’t obvious enough, Messina constantly asks him what’s going to happen next, before it does. Devil is completely lacking in tension, and thinks it’s a lot cleverer and more unsettling than it is. This shouldn’t really come as any surprise, as director John Erick Dowdle is also responsible for Quarantine (which gave away its ending in the trailer) and The Poughkeepsie Tapes (which thought it was much more fucked up than it was).

There are some nifty shots of a masked figure, supposedly Satan, that pop up here and there, but for the most part, this is a bit like watching footage from a particularly bad theme park ride. So much of the action takes place in darkness that it’s impossible to see, or even care, what’s going on. When the lights come back on, someone has usually perished, but because we know so little about these characters – shocking, considering there are less than ten of them – it’s easy to dismiss their deaths and not really question whether it’s the Devil’s handiwork or not.

The whole premise of Devil, along with the rather intrusive score, honks of Final Destination, but that franchise handled a similar concept much more effectively, with some fantastic death sequences, a real sense of foreboding, and humour – three key elements this film sorely lacks. When done correctly, the unknown can be really scary. But here, nothing is left unknown. What we do know we don’t care about, because it’s been so spelled out that it’s insulting to our intelligence. Everything else that could work, like the various murders, is relegated to background noise, to make room for more philosophising about God and the nature of humanity, none of which is particularly interesting, or in any way new. The idea of being stuck in a claustrophobic space, for hours on end, is a good basis for a horror movie, but it takes a certain amount of skill to make it suitably scary for the screen. Phone Booth utilised its titular small space well, by including a real, present villain, but Devil squanders its setup by introducing the idea of Satan, overexposing it, and then clinging to it for dear life, while simultaneously hoping that we’ll somehow also wonder if one of the featured group may just be a regular ol’ serial killer anyway. There is absolutely nothing to recommend here. Devil is boring, contrived, incredibly predictable, and not scary, even if you are really afraid of lifts. There are two Shyamalan twists at the end, neither of which hit home (Tenacious D did one of them better). Most of the time, the film feels like a particularly dull excursion on the Tower Of Terror, but even being stuck on that ride for two hours would be more fun than this. Don’t bother with Devil, unless you’re having some serious trouble getting to sleep.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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