Review: DEVIL (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Review: DEVIL (2010)


Poor M. Night Shyamalan. Whatever he touches these days turned to box-office poison. His recent highly-anticipated big-budget summer movie extravaganza, THE LAST AIRBENDER, was heavily pounded by critics and viewers alike and the box-office return wasn't particularly impressive as well. And now, it's actually refreshing to see him returning to small-scale horror genre. What's even more a sigh of relief is Shyamalan's latest venture here sees him giving the directorial job to John Erick Dowdle (2008's QUARANTINE) while retaining as writer and producer of the movie.

For some reasons, this first movie, DEVIL, in "The Night Chronicles" trilogy which involves the supernatural force within modern urban society opens with a bang: the main titles playing out over a claustrophobic aerial montage of downtown Philadelphia's bridges and high-rises shot in 180-degree upside down while accompanying with Fernando Velazquez's Bernard Herrmann-like thundering orchestral music score. It's simply pitch-perfect and it doesn't stop there as the movie proceeds with a few more nail-biting tension -- a jolting scene where a headphone-wearing janitor waxing the floor inside the office building before a man is seen suddenly plummeting down sky-high atop a van outside. From there, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) is called upon for investigation to find out the cause of the man's suicide from the office building of 333 Locust St. But this is just the beginning. What follows next is a random group of five strangers -- a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a security guard temp (Bokeem Woodbine), a well-dressed businesswoman (Bojana Novakovic), a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green), and an elderly pickpocket (Jenny O'Hara) -- become trapped on a malfunctioning elevator stuck halfway above. As the rescue crews are trying their best to get them out of the elevator, the only form of communication is via security cam where Detective Bowden is working out every possible angle he can to rectify the situation. Then something sinister happens: each time the elevator goes into temporary blackout, one of them inside will turned up mysteriously dead. One of the building officers, Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) who is particularly religious himself, suspects there is a devil within five of the strangers inside the elevator especially after he spotted what looks to be a demonic image superimposed over the elevator's surveillance recording.

No doubt the little premise itself is captivating, and director John Erick Dowdle is certainly the right man for the job to helm a dramatic horror thriller set in a confined space. For the first few twenty-minutes, Shyamalan and Brian Nelson's TWILIGHT ZONE-like script is creepy enough to draw the viewers' attention but that doesn't sustain longer to last right until the end. The biggest problem here is the obvious stamp of Shyamalan's trademark of whole-nine-yards turn of slow-burning narration and heavy exposition all over the place. It doesn't help either when the movie shifts too much focus outside of the elevator scenario, expanding the scope to concentrate other characters (e.g. Chris Messina's Detective Bowden). Had the movie sticks entirely inside the elevator, the result would have been claustrophobic. But the movie chooses to wander around back and forth, thus making the five characters inside the elevator little less developed and more like an afterthought.

Then there's the usual annoying third-act twist Shyamalan just can't help resisting on putting his favorite trademark on. He doesn't seems to understand the nature of certain horror genre that it's not necessary every like-minded movie have to end up with lots of heavy-handed explanation. What follows here in the subsequent scenes is the needless flashback that explains the characters' motivations that leads the exposure of the Devil's identity itself. Speaking of the Devil, there is little surprise here whatsoever.

As for director John Erick Dowdle, there are some worthy moments of suspenseful set-pieces especially in the earlier part of the movie, but he seems to surrender his visual flair too quickly to make way for repetitive scenario inside the elevator where the characters goes panicked against the brief blackout and creepy sound starts to take place. For a horror movie like DEVIL, it' s a shame that it has to reduce into a timid PG-13 rating.

Meanwhile the characters are all standard horror-movie type, and the rest of the movie is pretty much a long-winded yawner.

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