The last issue of The Edge featured a review of The Last Airbender which was written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film wasn’t very good. The script relied too heavily on plot exposition and many scenes were directed with minimal imagination – slow-mo isn’t everything after all. Having catalogued the shambolic decline of M. Night’s career to date, it was with both great trepidation and persistent optimism that I ventured into the latest film ‘from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan’ – a slogan that could strike fear and loathing into the most hardened reviewer.
Not to worry, however, as it seems that Shyamalan has learnt the art of delegation. Reduced to a ‘story by’ credit, Devil is written by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night) and helmed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine). The premise is simple enough: five people are stuck in a lift, one is masquerading as the anti-Christ and proceeds to bump off the lift’s inhabitants one-by-one. It’s the job of Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) to free the unlucky quintet before the devil gets to them or, with increasing paranoia, they get to each other.
The stage is set for the customary deliberation between supernatural events and their rational explanations as one of the building’s security staff recounts a Spanish old wives’ tale about the devil reaping vengeance on tainted souls, told through a baffling analogy to toast landing jam-side down. Meanwhile Bowden, whose wife and son have died in a hit-and-run, dismisses any devil dealings saying “people are bad enough as it is”. If the five in the lift are anything to go by, they really are. A nasty little bunch, seedy back stories and numerous plot misdirections make it tricky to decide which one of them is the devil incarnate.
It trundles along at a swift-ish pace and succeeds at remaining visually dynamic for being set predominantly in one, small location. It’s creepy enough too as each victim is dispatched with Final Destination– esque grizzliness. Punctuated by a well-thought out twist (a la Shyamalan), Devil is a functional if unremarkable thriller that establishes a very important rule: as long as M. Night Shyamalan isn’t directing, starring or writing the script for a film, it ends up being half-decent.