M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting career. He has had his highs and lows and boy have they been high and low. The problem is that rather than a roller coaster, it started at the top of the mountain and then began to fall and it has, more or less, been downhill ever since. The guy really needs a bit of a career makeover. That brings us to Devil, which is a new angle for Shyamalan, a move for the better in my book. He steps away from the writer’s desk and the director’s chair. With this movie he serves as the idea man and producer, letting others do the dirty work.
To say that Shyamalan’s name brand value has fallen would be an understatement. When I saw the trailer and his name appeared you could hear stifled laughter around the theater (something I experienced more than once). I still have faith in him as a director. Watch any of his films, liked or not, and you will see the work of a man with a great eye for screen composition. Of course, that comes with a lot of bad as well, he is nothing if not frustrating. What Devil proves is that he may be bad at screenwriting, but he is still a good idea man.
Devil is part one of the Nightmare Chronicles, a series of films based on original ideas from Shyamalan but written and directed by others. John Erick Dowdle directs this first entry, his prior work includes Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes (which has yet to receive an official release). The screenplay was written by Brian Nelson, who counts the excellent Hard Candy among his credits. Not a bad pair if you ask me. The goal seems to work these films on a low budget with up and coming talent combining their visions on the project that will hopefully bring more exposure to them all.
Cast with lesser known performers Devil is a small film with limited locations (mainly an elevator car) that relies on the writing and pacing to build tension and carry the story. It is a film that is quite nightmarish and seems to exist within its own contained universe that is separate from our own, in a Twilight Zone-esque fashion. Still, the basic premise feels quite real. Who has ever been trapped in an elevator with strangers before? If you haven’t, I am sure you can imagine it. There is certain to be a certain level of apprehension as you look at the faces around you, sizing them up as potential threats. Or not. I don’t really care how you slice it, a stuck elevator is sure to raise some nerves regardless of the source.
Devil takes that fear of being trapped in an elevator and puts a supernatural spin on the content as it turns it into a morality tale preaching forgiveness/ The story opens with narration telling of a story about how the Devil will come to the Earth to torment those he is about to claim for Hell. This leads into a locked-room mystery with the group of five people trapped on the elevator. One of them is not who they seem and by the end of it all you can be guaranteed that some bad things are going to happen.
The story is not all that deep but the morality play is interesting, telling about the journey we take and our quest for redemption. What may seem like chance may not be, it could just be how we are guided towards that redemption. All you need is that opening for catharsis to find the forgiveness (or lack thereof) that is needed. Of course, this is told with violence, suspicion, and doubt.