Friday, 17 September 2010

Devil - Dir. John Erick and Drew Dowdle

“My dear brethren…the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!” Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1864). Directed by Drew and John Erick Dowdle, and based on a story by the ever mysterious M. Night Shyamalan, ‘Devil’ consists of a traditional story containing a battle between good and evil, set within the confines of an office towers elevator in contemporary Philadelphia. Five strangers are trapped in an elevator together, and one of them may, or may not, be the devil (a being which is the personification of all evil). It is an interesting, and new take upon the premise that the devil may be “walking among us,” and while it is competently filmed and at times dutifully suspenseful, it lacks the intelligence and the inventiveness to the keep an audience hooked for the full eighty minutes of its running time.

Five strangers, consisting of a soldier (Logan Marshall-Green), a temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a cocky mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a young woman (Bojana Novakovic), and a pensioner (Jenny O’Hara) are all seemingly innocuous people who enter an elevator together in the ‘333’ office building. They are all there for different reasons, but when the elevator refuses to respond to basic maintenance and the patrons of the suspended steel box start to become agitated and aggressive, they must try to deduce to whom is to blame for the violence that is surrounding them. While outside the elevator, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) and his partner Markowitz (Joshua Peace) alongside the tower’s security guards Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and Lustig (Matt Craven), must also try to figure out what is happening inside the small, enclosed space, is it an aggressive attack by one of the strangers who has something to hide, or are there supernatural forces at work, gaining pleasure from torturing five apparently innocent citizens.

The film begins with a voice-over narration which details the story of the devil, and how he would purportedly occasionally take the place of a living being to torment those around him. A somewhat redundant touch, as the film itself gradually rolls out the story as the minutes tick by. From then on in, after a brief sequence involving a suicide, the characters board the elevator. Nothing is known about why they are in the building, what occupation (if any) they hold, and most importantly the audience does not know their names. They are essentially faceless beings until gradually the audience is fed bits and pieces of information to try and guess the identity of the perpetrator, played out in the same vein as any other mystery thriller. What separates this film apart from the rest however is the duelling storylines taking place between the strangers in the elevator and the Detective investigating ‘their’ (?) potential crimes.

Simultaneously the audience is able to follow the two detectives as they impartially try to understand what is happening in the elevator and who (if anybody) is perpetrating the crimes inside, while the characters inside the elevator increasingly become subjective towards each other. While most importantly, neither side can influence the other, creating a constant atmosphere of tension throughout the film as you wait to see whether the investigation will conclude successfully or whether the investigation will be halted due to the lack of live witnesses involved. Aside, from this however, the rest of the film involving secondary characters, seems to feel out of place, and slow the general pace of the film down, while also detracting away from the mysterious atmosphere of what is happening both in the security booth and in the elevator. While the acting by Bowden, Marshall-Green and Bojana Novakovic manage to keep the film on a professional level and stop it from failing on a most basic level (if a film is primarily set in one enclosed location, then the actors involved need to be able to portray to audience their different, and various contrasting emotions competently enough over a short space of time).

‘Devil’ is an adeptly made film from a story by one of the most notorious filmmakers currently operating at the moment in M. Night Shyamalan (due to his recent ‘critical’ failings). While it doesn’t contain a final-act twist of ‘Sixth Sense’ proportions that will completely revive the horror-mystery-thriller genre for years to come, it is also an enjoyable film that isn’t completely predictable within the first five minutes of screen-time if you can look past its visual flaws.