Devil is the kind of movie that’s enjoyable on the surface, but falls apart under even casual scrutiny, despite boasting a talented cast and crew.
Stated simply, the plot is: five people are trapped in an elevator and they start dying off as investigators on the outside try to rescue them and figure out who’s who.
The world of Devil is populated by paper-thin characters. Inside the elevator, there’s the smarmy salesman (Geoffrey Arend), the gold-digger (Bojana Novakovic), the cranky old woman (Jenny O’Hara), the security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), and the ex-marine (Logan Marshall-Green). And working to get them out, you have the recovering alcoholic detective (Joshua Peace), and a duo of security guards – one religious (Jacob Vargas) and one skeptic (Matt Craven). Ah, so many clichés, so little time.
Given that each of the characters in the film can be summed up in two or three words, it’s to be expected that none of the actors in Devil really stand out. They can only work with what they’ve been given, and in this case it’s not much. It’s a shame too, because this cast has talent. There are no major stars, but plenty of familiar faces. And we’ve seen these people doing better work in projects with vastly superior scripts.
On the positive side, John Erick Dowdle’s directing is pretty engaging. It’s hard to put much visual flair into a movie set mostly inside a crowded elevator, but he manages to mix things up a little.
That said, those expecting to be scared will be let down, since every time someone is attacked, it occurs in basically the same fashion – the lights go off, you hear sounds of a struggle, maybe a scream or two, the lights come on, and someone else is dead. This gets old fast. And it’s hard to get invested in the action anyway. The characters are so hollow that which ones live and which ones die doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference.
It’s easy enough to poke holes in Devil, but it’s difficult to say what might’ve improved it. Yes, the characters are weak, but fleshing them out more would’ve likely required a longer running time. And Devil already feels long enough even though it only runs 80 minutes.
In the end, you can’t fault the execution. Given the script they were provided, the actors and the director made about as good a movie as could be made.
The concept for Devil was advertised as coming “from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan,” which incited laughs and groans from many theatregoers when the film’s trailer first started screening. It definitely feels like one of his movies, right down to the final twist. And yet, Devil is the best thing to have Shyamalan’s name attached to it in several years. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.