Starring: Chris Messina. Logan Marshall, Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’ Hara, Bokeem Woodbine
Director: John Erik Dowdle
Writer(s): Brian Nelson, M. Night Shyamalan
Cinematography: Tak Fugimoto
Origianl Score: Fernando Velazquez
Running Time: 80 mins.
Across the pond there is rumour that the (actually rather good) trailer for Devil was met with groans and booing upon the arrival of M. Night Shyamalan’s name onscreen, a rather unfair response given that Devil sees Shyamalan returning to the genre he has quite frankly proved himself to be a master of, the supernatural thriller/horror. As The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs proved he is capable of truly great things and it is a shame that due to a downward spiral in quality and an unfortunate slip into self-indulgence he has churned out two downright stinkers, The Happening and The Last Airbender and one and a half misunderstood gems, The Lady in the Water and The Village (being the half), all of which seems to have resulted in a universal hatred for a man who was at one stage a Hollywood golden boy!
Alas cast aside those misgivings and prepare for a return to form for the twist-meister with the first all out horror he has produced and devised since The Sixth Sense, sharing that films growing sense of doom kudos must be given to Shyamalan for recognising this is not a film to be lavished with long scenes of conversation and character building, something which he excels at when seated in the director’s chair. Devil is part one of a proposed trilogy of Night Chronicles films, films that have been conceived and produced by Shyamalan which means that director duties fall to John Erik Dowdle of The Poughkeepsie Tapes and the unnecessary [Rec] remake, Quarantine. This may not sound like a recipe for success but believe me when I say that Devil proves to be one of the best horror thriller’s in some time.
Directed with efficiency by Dowdle it undoubtedly has Shyamalan’s fingerprints on each and every frame but replaces his ponderous direction with something much more urgent and snappy, exactly what the film needed. Set largely within the confines of an office block and its elevator shaft there are 5 strangers trapped, one of them is essentially the Devil. As the strangers attempt to control the fears they have and their suspicions about one another a police detective attempts to piece together what is happening, we know from the opening voice-over that demonic forces are at work but the beauty is in how the plot unfurls, not so much with originality (this really is pure B movie stuff when you boil it down) but through a combination of great direction, performance and some inspired visual flourishes.
That said, Devil is far from showy, we open with a landscape shot of Philadelphia (of course) zooming into an office block via the air vents, the twist being that the shot is upside down, giving a very strong air of foreboding coupled with what can only be described as an immersive experience, something that continues throughout as you feel the plight of those in the elevator Dowdle shoots in such a way that you feel like a fly on the wall enveloped in the ever mounting terror. Very little is seen (another Shyamalan staple) but a glimpsed face here, an eerie noise there and scenes taking place largely in the dark that usually precurse a death are really quite nail-biting, all leading to the expected twist(s) that don’t turn the film on it’s head, but reveal the machinations of an evil at work that scarily feels totally feasible.
Devil offers a return to genuinely creepy, nail-biting horror, Shyamalan haters should repent as the man has conceived a superb and tight film that pushes all the right buttons thanks to some excellent direction by Dowdle, parts 2 and 3 of the Night Chronicles are a more than welcome prospect.