Unbreakable director (and Last Airbender ruiner) M. Night Shyamalan has doomed the movie Devil by association. People even booed for the trailer featuring his name. But the Devil-in-an-elevator movie is more fun, and less contrived, than the Shyamalan name suggests.
Oh, and here's your warning: Press the down button for spoilers! Although we don't give away the big twist.
Finally! A Shyamalan twist that doesn't make us want to stab ourselves in the face:
After years and years of over-complicated — and frankly insulting — plot twists, Devil's big reveal is so simple, it's almost reassuring. The reign of self-indulgent Shyamalan twists is dead! In the end it felt good to gotten past Shyamalan's desperate flurry of attempts to make us all think about nature, or something. Were we surprised? Not particularly. But we were entertained, and that's something.
The title scenes? What can we say, you saw them in the trailer. They looked great. Sure it's not wholly original, but it almost gave us a touch of vertigo, which was probably the point.
Five people get into an elevator, one of them is the Devil, and they are all going to die. The narrator, (yes there's a narrator, no we don't know why) who sets up the entire premise in the beginning of this film, and it works. Even though you know what's coming, you're cheering for the next inevitable death to come along. The plot works, and is executed nicely with suspense and thrills from the beginning to the end. Plus, all of the characters trying to get the people out of the elevator are seemingly professional and intelligent in their methods. A few plot holes were patched up slightly clumsily, with things like the elevator being an "express" so there aren't any stops in this shaft — but hey, that's plausible.
No Religion, Despite The Film Being Called Devil:
If Constantine is the Diet Coke of religious movies than Devil is Coke Zero. And thank goodness for small favors. This movie isn't about religion at all, and the Devil audience is better off for it. No one is going to experience a spiritual reckoning from watching five dicks trapped in an elevator with Lucifer. The movie makers know this, and they don't really attempt to preach much, if at all. Even the very tiny moral lesson at the end of the film is about on par with your mother's suggestion, at the age of five, to "be nice to people."
It's like Twilight Zone Light:
The entire film comes full circle by the climax, just like the Twilight Zone shorts we've cherished from our past. And even though Devil is much more violent than the Twilight Zone, the show is infinitely more dark. Still, the full circle twist was fun for the short ride it provided.
Good A To B Thriller:
Devil isn't jump-out-of-your-seat frightening, but it is thrilling. You will be surprised here and there. While we could have used with a little more character manipulation between the trapped actors and the actual plot, but the movie was well paced and the action kept coming.
That's One Dated Devil:
The characters were criminally underdeveloped and so stereotypical that the entire film seemed a bit dated. There's the black security guard with a long assault rap sheet, the possibly shell-shocked vet who "saw some stuff in Afghanistan," the thieving old lady, the dickhead guy in a suit, the seemingly nice white girl with a past, and the damaged cop. We've seen these characters before a thousand times. The cliché boxes that each role has gotten stuffed into suffocate any sort of character development whatsoever.
We're told from the get-go that these are all bad people, but finding out each sinner's big secret was the least exciting part of the film. Devil's goal is to get you to the end, so you can find out the big twist. But rather than utilizing the actors as clues towards the final reveal, they're really all just on screen to fill up time until the big reveal. I'm specifically disappointed in the Mattress Salesman (yes we know) played by Geoffrey Arend. This actor is amazingly funny — so funny, in fact, that he made a few particularly dated references humorous. He deserved a better batch of lines from Devil. The film would have been better off if they let this guy off the leash a little bit and out of his "You're a jerk salesman" box.
And speaking of dated dialog, almost every character exchange needed to be dusted off quite a bit. Terms like "Dawg" and "suck a butt" made for some pretty clunky dialog exchanges. Is this a huge problem? Not really. But for a movie that's attempting to keep its audience on the razors edge, listening to some of this banter took us right out of the moment.
They clipped the Devil's Wings:
Devil never really gets comfortable wallowing in its own horrific plot line. This is Satan, people! Let's have some fun with this idea. As a fan of the horrific hell standard that was set in such films as Event Horizon, when you are dealing with the actual Devil, somebody needs to be ripping out their own eyeballs. It's suffering far beyond our mortal minds can comprehend, let's push it. There's no reason Devil couldn't get away much more creative kills while keeping their precious PG-13 rating intact. Just about every murder was off-camera, hastily covered up with a characters hand, and a few were laughably vague. Not everything has to be all blood all the time, but if you're not using a cloak and dagger Needful Things-type demon, then go for the gore.
The twist of the twist:
Even though we already said the simple ending was preferable to something half-assed, that doesn't mean we're letting the ending 100% off the hook. Just because someone has been sucking all the life out of surprise endings for the last five years doesn't mean we're going to applaud like hell when we're presented with a Shyamalan conclusion that doesn't make us angry. While simple, the twist could have been much more interesting. But then again we're not sure if that's what Devil was striving for. If the point was to make an A to B thriller, then they succeeded in that simplicity. But we're a little disappointed that Devil didn't try and push for the "we're all really the Devil" or purgatory plot line we speculated about earlier this week. Kinda weak.
The longer you put Devil under the microscope, the more cracks you're going to see. So don't. The problems with this movie didn't hamper my overall enjoyment of the film. That being said, Devil is really only effective while you're in the theater. Once you know the ending, you'll never see it again. And even though it doesn't provoke any sort of audience introspection, you will have fun for the hour and twenty minutes you're in there. It's engaging, but not challenging. Thrilling, but not scary. Plus there's a twist that will probably surprise 50% of the audience. So you've got half a chance to get Shyamalaned again, if you miss that sort of thing.