Sunday, September 19, 2010

Movie Review: Devil (by Dave Machado)

Devil is a movie that you can like, perhaps even really like, but not love. It's a high-concept horror movie that is filled with so many logical holes that it begins to resemble a game of Jenga. I spent the whole running time wondering when that final piece of intelligence would be removed, causing the entire movie to topple over itself. Yet somehow, when the movie was finished, that tower of blocks was left standing and the movie was able to get away with having so many issues purely because it was so damn fun to watch. It may lose a lot of its bulk to bad logic, but it is smart enough to keep its base intact, providing a great thriller with some genuinely creepy moments.

The movie focuses on a group of 5 people stranded in an elevator. They are all suspicious people to begin with and start to turn against each other as they realize something is horribly wrong with their situation. The previews hint that one of the passengers is not who they claim to be and are in fact the devil. The movie does a good job in the beginning of making you question whether or not something truly supernatural is occurring but does not stick with this theme long enough. The filmmakers don't seem that interested in this debate of whether or not evil really exists and because of this, the movie loses a bit of steam going forward.

Speaking of losing steam, the movie makes the confusing decision to go back and forth between the people in the elevator and the cops and security guards trying to get them out far too much. I would have preferred something more risky where the movie focused on only one of these groups for the entire runtime. That way at least if it was a failure, it would have been a respectable failure. Instead we are forced to go back and forth between both scenarios, which I felt made it so neither ever got the real attention they deserved. The movie never allows enough time for the real sense of panic to rise up on either side, which just doesn't make sense to me based on what we see happening.

One of the things that really bugged me about the movie is how the people in the elevator react to the first death. The movie ends up taking on a very Agatha Christie feel as one-by-one, the people in the elevator start to die mysteriously (when the lights go out of course.). But once the first death occurs, I was stunned at the lack of reaction from the rest of the people in the elevator. They seem to react to the death the same way they would react if one of the people happened to faint while the lights were out. Sure, there is some nonsense talk about having never seen a dead body before, but they aren't flipping out, which is something I think should have happened. The movie has the characters keep their cool for the sake of storytelling but from a reality standpoint, it starts to pull those Jenga pieces away at a very quick pace.

It seems that a lot of the smaller things that bugged me stemmed from the fact that the filmmakers set up the rules they wanted to work within before fully fleshing out the details. So when the characters are face with a problem that has a logical workaround, they skirt that issue under the rug and try to divert attention away from the glaring issues. One such rule is that the cops outside the elevator are able to speak to the survivors using the P.A. system, but for some reason, the other side is broken so they can't hear anything coming from within the elevator. The only connection they have is what's picked up by the elevator security camera. This leaves many times where the movie simply gives in to the fact that some things can't be communicated because there is no sound coming from the elevator. Apparently these cops cannot read lips at all and the people in the elevator are terrible at charades. 

The movie tries to mine far too much tension out of this problem so it's never brought up how illogical it is that none of this is attempted. They try to pull something by saying the camera isn't sharp enough when they try to have the people hold up their IDs so they can properly identify who is in the elevator, but that is not a good enough excuse for me. I wish the movie was a bit more tongue-in-cheek and it didn't try to be so serious at times. It's hard to take a movie seriously when the address of the building where everything takes place is 333 Locust St. It seems baffling to me that a movie would choose something that corny and not stick with a B-movie tone. Again, it's as if the filmmakers are not brave enough to chose one thing over the other and instead try to have the best of both worlds, which is something that a small horror movie with an 80 min. runtime is not able to handle.

Devil tries to play out like a religious morality play. It contains some pretty bad narration by the very religious security guard who is the first to suspect something is wrong. The movie begins with his voice over but we don't actually become introduced to his character until later on in the movie. It is an odd and somewhat lazy choice to have him relay a story his mother used to tell him about the devil coming to earth to make people pay for their sins. It becomes even an odder choice when we see just how useless the character actually is within the scope of the movie. It's as if they needed a way to get this extra information across and the only way they knew how was to create this one note supporting character and then allow him to narrate the most important parts of the film. They could have at least given his character a good pay off but instead he ends up playing no role in the outcome, other than to annoy me with this cliche ramblings about the devil.

It actually surprises me how many negative things I have to say about this movie because as I said earlier, I enjoyed it overall. The movie is being billed as the first entry in "The Night Chronicles" which seems to be a possible anthology of unrelated thrillers to be setup by Producer M. Night Shyamalan. I would love to see a couple little flicks like this pop up every year. Devil plays out in a twisty Twilight Zone kind of way that could easily make it part of a universe being setup between multiple films. If you are a fan of horror movies, then I 100% recommend giving this movie a shot. Hopefully you will find enough good in it like I did to consider it an entertaining story and something that I look forward to revisiting on DVD. However, for those who only enjoy horror when it's smart and edgy, you may just want to wait in the lobby for the next elevator to arrive.

You're Welcome,

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