Monday, January 17, 2011


So, M. Night Shyamalan, we meet again. It's not surprising, no, not by a long shot. I'm a horror movie fan, and I prefer cerebral horror with at least marginally original concepts, and Shyamalan produces a lot of these types of movies. Of course, the fact that the guy is starting to shape up to be my nemesis isn't helping matters. To be fair, I recognize that my irrational hatred might be a result of The Happening... and Lady In The Water and Signs and The Village... so all of his movies I've seen bar one. Still, it feels unfair to judge the man's new works from that, which isn't to say that I don't. I wish I could say I started this movie with enthusiasm and a positive outlook, but try as I might, I just couldn't get myself to do that. Still, I've been convinced by movies I wasn't crazy about before, so let's see how this one fares.

Now, this isn't really a Shyamalan film, per se, it's directed by John Erick Dowdle, the guy who directed Quarantine... Oh my. He did direct The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which I did like, though, so I guess it, from that could go either way. Still, the story is Shyamalan's, and those who have seen a Shyamalan movie, any Shyamalan movie knows what that means, quiet drama scenes and TWISTS, but I'm getting ahead of myself, let's get the basics down.

The setup is very similar to Blackout, another film I liked. Five strangers find themselves trapped in an elevator, one of them have a dark, deadly, secret. Oh yes, one of the five strangers is in fact, El Diabolo, Old Scratch, The Devil, if you so prefer, and he's out to torture sinners because... uh, he's the devil, and he's vindictive and not very nice and what-have-you. I'm not quite sure how well that fits with Christian theology, but it does sound a little odd. Maybe it makes sense, though, Satan is seldom considered the most rule-abiding and decent of folk. I wouldn't say the story isn't problematic, in itself, but it has a couple of snags that makes me go "Uh... what?"

First of all, there's the aforementioned theological confusion, but I guess I, as a non-angry Atheist, have no real room to complain about this. What I do, however, feel I can complain about is one particular bit of "Uh... wait, what?" logic. Mr Exposition in this case is a Hispanic security guard who also, keeping true to national stereotypes, this is Hollywood after all, is deeply religious, and by deeply religious we mean Catholic, because  that's the only type of Christianity that's sufficiently dramatic for screenwriters, it would seem. He claims the Devil, capital D, is in the elevator, and I hope you're holding on to something because this'll blow your mind like an Illithid hooker, because everything seems to go wrong all on itself. Oh yes, he even demonstrates, by throwing a piece of toast up in the air and observing that it lands with the jam side down. You know, never mind that the side with jam on it is probably heavier, or that... as they say, shit happens.
Or, in this case: THE DEVIL HAPPENS

Now, if you pointed to all the other incredibly lethal accidents that happened around the same time, I might be more inclined to call it an argument that... you know, actually makes sense, but come on, toast? That's like me proving that my dog is Lord Cthulhu of the Deeps because of a coin toss. Of course, nobody else takes him seriously, although he, indeed turns out to be right, as the minority exposition expert is want to do. So, I guess it could be worse, since everybody taking him seriously would cause me to headbutt something.

On the technical side of things, Devil is competently done, but with some odd choices that I feel diminish the overall immersion and at least my enjoyment of the thing. For one, the movie opens with this odd, upside-down pan across the city this thing is set in. I'm not sure what it's supposed to signify, maybe it's a play on that whole thing of an upside-down cross being satanic or something,or maybe there's some absurd bible verse in play here, but honestly, it just looks odd, and not "cool odd" either, just kinda... weird. Also, this could just be me, but I felt the score was way to aggressive on the ominous music. I mean, it's true as they say, scary music can make most anything scary, but when you're playing scary music over pretty much the entire opening without anything even slightly unnerving happening... you're kind of wearing it out.

Scary music will not make this intimidating

Scare-wise, Devil could've done better. Granted, it has one or two moments that's... pretty creepy, but I can't help but feel that Devil squanders it's potential. It's El Diablo we're dealing with here, one would think he could whip up some pretty terrific stuff, or at least be a little... scarier about it. Just such a relatively simple thing as having the lights go out, because the devil always kills in the cover of probably infernally powered blackouts, without anyone dying would be a fun trick, and you could be awfully deceptive as the Big D. Of course, you could be awfully deceptive as filmmakers too, but they seem to not having poured their heart into it. You see, from the basic premise, it's obvious how this was planned to play out, juggling suspicion on all living characters, but sadly, it's pretty straightforward, as they rotate which character is in the suspicion spotlight, and doesn't go back, questioning people who previously was in the spotlight, etc, you know, mindfuck material..

All in all, Devil feels like a big honking helping of wasted opportunities here. Sure, here I go as an uppity film geek telling professionals how to do their job, but I guess it wouldn't be a proper blog if I didn't display a little unwarranted self-importance, or what? At any rate, the movie really doesn't make the most out of it's premise, in that very little time is actually spent in the elevator, which feels like a cop-out to me. Alternatively, maybe it'd be a more interesting movie if you never actually went into the elevator, kind of turning the plot inwards-out. That could create a few interesting scenes, I think, but here's me, art-film weirdoing again. Also, you really don't get any backstory on the main characters, so when they die, or have mind-shattering plot twists that you might see coming if you've seen a single Shyamalan film, I personally found it hard to empathize with them, especially since they're given little more than the one character trait that tells us why the Devil is fucking with them in the first place.

So, all in all, Devil's a fairly disappointing movie, and while I won't say that everything Shyamalan does nowadays end up sucking, it would be a deceptively simple conclusion to make.

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