Devil: An Underrated 2010 Horror Gem That Deserves a Second Look
When I was a child, my mother would tell me a story about how the Devil roams the Earth. Sometimes, she said, he would take human form so he could punish the damned on Earth before claiming their souls. The ones he chose would be gathered together and tortured as he hid amongst them, pretending to be one of them. My mother’s story would always begin the same way, with a suicide paving the way for the Devil’s arrival. And it would always end with the deaths of all those trapped.
I am a big fan of Devil. It is an under appreciated horror film that starts strong and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It has a refreshing lack of pretense and it simply wants to tell the world a new story. Shakespeare it ain’t but it was never intended to be the next Exorcist, Omen or Sixth Sense. The horror landscape has a dearth of original ideas so it pains me when something trying to be original gets dismissed before it ever hits the movie screens. Co-writer John (The Horror Leviathan) summed up this film well with this quote:
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?
The problem is that the film was associated with M. Night Shyamalan in 2010. After four years that featured Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender Shyamalan’s stock was diminished and his twisty style had become a punchline. I remember sitting in a theater when the Devil preview played. When the title “Produced by M. Night Shyamalan” appeared the audience groaned and I knew the film never had a chance. Devil was bound to fail because public opinion was so against M. Night at the moment and people didn’t want some BS twist and melodramatic turn.
This scene from The Happening didn’t help public opinion.
That lack of interest is a shame because Devil is a neat little one-off film that features a claustrophobic vibe and singular story. The 52% Rotten Tomatoes rating is better than the standard horror film rating and it is light years ahead of the 25% average of Shyamalan’s prior three films. Devil features one of the coolest openings of recent memory and I loved the grey and off-kilter vibe it established.
Philly upside down. The opening credits were simple, effective and established immediate dread.
Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs, Sixth Sense, Devil in a Blue Dress) used the setting as a playground and let the camera whiz around while using every trick in the book to keep the film rolling. He works wonders with the $18 million dollar budget and gives the film a neat visual flair. Moments from this film are burnt in my memory because of the beautiful work Fujimoto achieves.
Director John E. Dowdle (Quarantine, As Above So Below) and screenwriter Brian Nelson (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) do a fine job taking Shyamalan’s idea and stripping it down into a neat package. They’ve streamlined the proceedings and nary a moment is wasted. The 80 minute run time tells a neat story that may feel heavy handed but never overbearing. The religious angle turned off a lot of viewers but I dig the idea of a world turned upside down after a suicide. The death leaves a window open for the Devil to collect souls. However, Devil turns the tables on the bad guy and leads to a story of redemption and forgiveness. Also, I’m gonna go on the record and say that I didn’t mind the toast falling jelly side down. It is an earnest moment that too many jaded people scoffed at. I am in the minority when I appreciate the usage of toast to prove the Devil is nigh.
The young and mostly unknown cast do a fine job of being stuck in an elevator. They are left purposefully mysterious and we learn more about them as the film rolls along. I loved seeing Bokeem Woodbine back in the spotlight and Chris Messina (The Mindy Project) does a fine job as the troubled detective. There are no Shyamalan uber twists and it plays out like a whodunit involving the Devil. There are little hints that can lead you astray and when the lights turn out you have no clue what will happen. I love how almost every character has hints of red on their outfits and that allows you to speculate who might be the evil one. I watched Devil with my friend and we both guessed wrong as to who the Devil was. The film has a wildcard vibe and that is rare in today’s cinema.
Original stories are rare nowadays and this film suffered because of its association with M. Night Shyamalan. The problem is the expectations were too jaded and this fun horror film got lost in the shuffle. It you get a chance check it out on Netflix and let me know what you think.
What movies do you think deserve a second chance?