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John’s Horror Corner: Devil

April 3, 2011

Hello all. Mark Here. Read this great review then watch Devil. It deserves a chance. You will not regret it.

Devil (2010)

By John Leavengood

MY CALL:              When a movie can seize our attention during the opening credits and maintain it throughout—well, we’re in for something good.  An impressive score, ominous but beautiful cinematography and exquisite camerawork transform this movie from “decent” to a very different and enjoyable experience.  It strikes me as well-written and well-acted by a team of underrated actors.  It’s not gruesome or horrifying, but it kept me on my toes and, more importantly, kept my attention continuously.  This expanded one-act is a gem in an era where moviemakers place more attention in trailer-editing than movie production.  [B+ ]

IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH: Quarantine, same director, scarier, eerier, even less plot.

FOR THE SUPERFANS:   This is the first film of three in Shyamalan’s Night Chronicles Trilogy.

Folks, let’s give credit where it’s due.  If you skipped this movie just because Shyamalan’s name was attached to it then you made a mistake.  I’ll start by pointing out a key difference between this Shyamalan movie and all others: Shyamalan wrote it but did not direct it.  All of his other movies, which admittedly went downhill after The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, were both written and directed by him.  I’d also like to point out that the ideas for all of his movies had the potential to be great—really great.  But for any movie you need not only a proven director, but the right director for the movie in question.  I think they got the director right on this one:  John Erick Dowdle, who directed Quarantine, the American adaptation of the Latin phenom [REC].

The movie opens with a cautionary tale about the Devil, who occasionally gathers a group of ill-fated humans to torture them one by one before stealing them away to Hell.  Cut to the opening credits we see an impressive metropolitan cityscape showcased in a distorted, upside down view to set a mood of unease—or excitement for movie thrill-seekers.  The score, as if architected to accelerate heart rates, compliments the visual overtones well.  I am immediately on my toes, waiting to pick out the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing before a single hits the screen.

The characters include a bereft, alcoholic detective who doubts his ability forgive, two elevator-surveillance security guards, two attractive twenty-somethings (a man and a woman), a floor security guard, a testy old woman, and a well-dressed  mattress salesman.  The game starts when we see the latter five step onto the elevator.  From this moment on, a talented movie analyst might be auditing each character’s wardrobe for red or anything “diabolical”.  But red is found on the attire of a few of them, as well as hints of red on the fabric walls of the elevator, one character’s hair, the lit buttons and the digital floor number display.  Nothing is obvious, which makes random suspicions free game!

Interspersed with the director’s attempts to bait us into snap judgments as to who is “the Devil” are elevated shots of the city, some with views looking straight up or ominously down the side of their reflective, windowed surface and others shuttling through the elevator shaft.  The devout, Hispanic security guard (who has been doubling as an effective narrator) chimes in with his theological fears or additional details to the story which opened the movie.  As tension rises, we are left to wonder if the five on the elevator are the only people gathered by the Devil, or if the detective and surveillance security were carefully chosen as well.

Suspicions shift readily and regularly.  We periodically learn new details about the characters which could be hints or red herrings.  Expressions of fear, accusation, anger and disgust festoon the faces of our elevator players.  In screenwriting they say that you don’t put a gun on the wall in Act One unless it’s going to fire in Act Three.  Let’s just say it feels like this wall belongs to the NRA president.

This movie was fun and unique.  As serial-moviegoers isn’t that what we want?  Something different and enjoyable?  Something that doesn’t feel like a recycled idea with a new director and different actors?  If you feel the same way, then give Shyamalan a mulligan and try this movie out!

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