Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Starfish Reviews : Devil.

If you haven't yet seen this film, go away and come back when you have. Or don't, whatever.

Bad things happen for a reason”.

That is the dubious tag-line accompanying the most recent offering from the mind of M Night Shyamalan, and as with any film associated with this man, I find myself conflicted. And with good reason – the last film bearing his name was the unspeakably awful 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. But Shyamalan is not the director this time, only the writer, Devil being the first of a trilogy entitled 'The Night Chronicles', described as a set of films which explore the supernatural in modern society.

So, to the film itself. As anyone who as seen the trailer will know, its premise is very simple – 5 people stuck in a lift, one of them is the Devil incarnate. The idea for this comes from an old myth, sometimes known as 'The Devils Meeting', in which the Devil will sometimes walk the Earth in human form, in order to torment people (for shits and giggles, I guess). One part of the story states that the Devil can only be granted access to Earth through a suicide, as suicide is an unholy sin....and sure enough, in one of the first shots of the film we see someone falling to their death from the top of the skyscraper in which the film is set.

This arcane idea is brought to life by director John Erick Dowdle, the man who in 2008 directed 'Quarantine', an almost shot-for-shot copy of the original Spanish movie 'Rec', and seems reluctant to stop using those frustratingly shaky camera angles. Part of the problem comes from situating most of the action in an elevator (or as we British say, a lift), a small space, and when you then fill this small space with people, it becomes difficult to keep shots neat and well-lit. The lighting was also quite frustrating, as you actually miss a lot of the action via the flickering lights in the elevator as the power fails. Which I realise is completely intentional on the directors part, concealing the action to maintain suspense yadda yadda, but for 75 minutes it gets quite tiresome.

To me the main problem with film-making is always in maintaining the strength of the original idea as it is turned into a finalised product, and this is a problem with Devil. The idea itself is quite fascinating – the Devil as a metaphor for the instinctual pathology in human beings, the idea of people creating their own danger as a product of hysteria and group psychology, etc (remember we never actually see the Devil attack, also playing to our instinctual fear of the dark), but to me this idea was let down by off-putting camera-work, unneccesarily dark lighting, and a hard-to-believe ending. I mean, really? You actually think the Devil would accept a persons apology for their wrong-doings, and allow them to leave? Please, pain and suffering are the Devils bread and butter. And to the question of which one was the Devil, the answer was all too obvious (murder mystery cliché number 1 – it's always the quiet one).

Related films: Saw, Phone Booth, Rope, The Sixth Sense, Psycho.
Directing – 6/10
Writing – 7.5/10
Acting - 7/10
Overall – 6.5/10

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