Written by: Brian Nelson, based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O’Hara, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic
My Advice: Matinee for suspense-addicts. Rental for others.
Here. I want you to sit down for this. Are you sitting? Okay, good. And don’t freak out. Here goes. Devil is the first in a new trilogy of M. Night Shyamalan films. Now, see, youâ€™re freaking out and I told you not to! It’s not that bad. He isn’t directing any of them. I’ll say that again. M. Night Shyamalan is not directing, or writing the script for, any of the Night Chronicle films. There, see? It’s not so bad! And it’s safe to keep reading.
[ad#longpost]Devil‘s plot is dead simple. Five people are stuck in an elevator, and one of them is secretly the titular entity. As a writer, I’m sure that I’m supposed to pad that out a little more, but I’m not getting paid for this, and that’s really all there is to it. Thankfully, you don’t need more than that to enjoy yourself here. What you do need then is something director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine and often-overlooked indie horror The Poughkeepsie Tapes) and M. Night manage to provide in spades: suspense. I think the suspense, atmosphere, and pure creepy generated in Devil would have even Hitchcock grinning.
Chris Messina plays a Philadelphia police detective that isn’t a few days away from retirement, but is a few steps away from a Sherlock Holmes. This sharp analytical mind is played off of by two frightened security officers: one deeply religious, and one just trying to keep control. The rest of the cast mostly consists of the five trapped in the box, all of whom play their archetypes (the thief, the con artist, the shell-shocked marine, the ex-thug, and the gold-digger) quite well.
There’s a bit in the first five minutes that will have you worried for what’s to come. “Oh, no. Really? These tricks again?” And M. Night is up to his old tricks in Devil. There are quite a few twists (or “tweests” if you prefer) in the plot, most of which you can probably see coming if you try. The ending wraps up in a nice satisfying little ball, complete with callbacks, a la Signs. Genuine scares far outnumber jump-scares, and the over-the-top supernatural effects that could litter this film are thankfully left out. What you have instead is a situation where you’re not too sure if what’s going on is caused by The Big D, or instead by a carefully planned murderer.
So is this a return of the Shyamalan we all knew and loved in the early 00s? Not quite. But it is The Happening/The Last Airbender? Far from it. It won’t land on any “best of” lists, but there are plenty worse ways to spend your $8 out there. Here, M. Night Shyamalan proves that what he does best is tell a story, sometimes literally. If you can separate yourself from M. Night the name and M. Night the ego (a task he certainly and admittedly makes difficult), you’ll enjoy quite a serviceable thriller in Devil.