Friday, December 10, 2010

New Release Review: Devil (John Erick Dowdle, 2010)

Devil is not as bad as one might expect. Fueled by a pretty cool idea, this is all handled quite successfully by director John Erick Dowdle, whose plot moves briskly with enough twists to keep genre fans engaged. This is despite a very skinny run time (a mere 75 minutes) and a big let-down for a resolution. Based on a story and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and the first in the Night Chronicles Trilogy, it has his distinctive feel, but is certainly superior to all of his films following The Village (2004). 
Chris Messina stars as Detective Bowden, called in to investigate a suicide from the 35th floor of a high rise building. Bowden had lost his wife and son in a hit and run accident five years prior and had turned to alcoholism to deal with the trauma. The perpetrator had never been found. The opening sequence features him meeting his A.A sponsor, and he later discusses with his partner his successful defeat of alcoholism and the positive progress of his current relationship. Immediately following his call to investigate, five strangers enter the elevator of the same busy high rise building. Each with their own personal business inside the building, they do not recognize one another, nor in fact speak to one another before their elevator becomes stuck under unexplained circumstances between floors. The power surges and the lights flash on and off throughout their capture, and they are unable to verbally communicate with the security team monitoring them through the camera. Two of the security team recognize the situation and attempt to communicate with the group, and send one of the mechanics to investigate the mystery. One of the guards is a veteran who calmly remains in control of the situation, while the other is a devout Christian man, who supplies the voice-over narration throughout the film, and becomes distressed when he witnesses the situation transform into a reality reminiscent of a story about the presence of the Devil amongst humanity that his mother had told him when he was young. This theory is dismissed at first by his security partner and later by Bowden, but is ultimately revealed to be the most accurate assessment of the situation. The film remains faithful to his story for the most part, but then puzzlingly deviates in the closing sequences.

The five strangers in the elevator are Ben (Bokeem Woodbine), a security temp with violent inclinations; an elderly woman (Jenny O'Hara); Vince (Geoffrey Arrend), a mattress salesman and con artist; Tony (Logan Marshall-Green), a mechanic who had served time as a marine in Afghanistan; and Sarah (Bojana Novakovich), a blackmailer of wealthy men. Inside the elevator panic and violence ensues, and one of the party is found dead from a glass wound. It becomes clear that one of the group is the Devil in disguise, killing off members of the group whenever the lights go down. As mistrust and unrest envelopes the group, they become more desperate and seek new ways of escaping. Bowden is situated nearby and is called in to lead the investigation, along with the fire brigade who attempt to break into the lift from one of the floors. Bowden begins to investigate each of the remaining strangers and the aforementioned traits, unknown for the first half of the film, begin to be revealed as the body count increases.

The film successfully creates the feeling of claustrophobia inside the elevator and there is some incredible camera positioning, often taking the point-of-view of one of the characters as they look at their fellow captives. We feel like we are looking through the eyes of the Devil examining their potential victims, but we are always kept guessing because the camera adopts all of the characters' perspectives. Utilizing zoom close-ups and quick swivels, each character is adequately revealed and developed, and the tension extenuated. Cleverly cut into these claustrophobic moments are the equally suspenseful sequences outside the elevator. The performances are mostly solid, especially from the five captives. While the story is intriguing, it is full of convenient arcs and unfathomable supernatural elements, and from the opening moments you know it will result in a tale of redemption. The twist near the conclusion, I'll admit, is a surprise, but is unforgivably cheesy. Throughout the film the audience is challenged to guess the identity of the Devil and there is evidence to suspect each of the characters, which keeps us engaged and interested. Even so, it remains unsatisfying. While it certainly doesn't give us anything new, this low-budget thriller has its moments, but if you are a fan of say, Identity (2003), then it is a worthwhile hire on DVD.

My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

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