Devil Review
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A few of my colleagues first saw the trailer for Devil before a screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It looked like a pretty creepy movie, and people were really getting into it—until the words “From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan” appeared on the screen. Then much of the audience burst out laughing.

You see, no matter what M. Night himself may say, the infamously egotistical writer/director hasn’t made a good movie in quite some time. And after The Last Airbender, even his most loyal fans threw in the towel. But when he finally decided to take a step back and hand one of his stories over to another writer and another director, he managed to produce his best film in years.

  
 
Written by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night) and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine), Devil is a super-short, low-budget thriller about five strangers who find themselves trapped in an elevator. As the building’s staff tries to handle the problem, though, things begin to go horribly wrong—and the passengers start dying in the most gruesome of ways.

Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), a troubled cop who’s just starting to recover from the loss of his family, is called in to investigate. But while he’s looking for connections and conspiracies, one of the building’s security guards, Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), has an explanation of his own: the devil is in that elevator, and the killing won’t stop until every passenger is dead.

Devil is a simple thriller. It doesn’t get caught up in intricate plotting or detailed character development. Instead, it gives just a cursory introduction—just a couple of scenes of build-up—before the characters find themselves trapped in the elevator. And, from there, the rest of the film is tense and eerie and claustrophobic.

Although Devil has the occasional bursts of violence, the majority of the film’s horrors are the psychological kind. After the first passenger dies, the remaining four become all too aware that they’re stuck in a small space with a killer. They make snap judgments about which of their fellow passengers can be trusted and which can’t, yet they’re constantly second-guessing their decisions. Meanwhile, back in the control room, the cops and security guards work to solve the mystery and rescue the survivors, all the while haunted by Ramirez’s unwavering belief that the killer isn’t human. As the story plays out and the tension continues to build, you’ll find yourself leaning forward in your seat, anxious to see what will happen next—and to find out who (or what) is responsible.

Still, Devil is far from flawless. It has a strong tendency toward cheesiness (with a side of preachiness)—and the intrusive (and often irritating) narration is completely unnecessary. But the concept is intriguing, and it’s executed quite well—complete with a couple of M. Night’s trademark twists, just to keep the audience guessing. It’s short and sweet, too—just 80 minutes, including credits—yet it’s missing nothing but the pointless fluff that would have inflated the runtime and made the story drag.

So even if you gave up on M. Night Shyamalan long ago, don’t shy away from this surprising psychological/supernatural horror flick. Because while the notorious filmmaker may have his fingerprints all over it, they don’t leave too much of a mess behind.

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