Friday, September 17, 2010

Devil, or How M. Night Got His Tweest Back

Director: John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine)
Script: Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night), story by M. Night Shyamalan (The Happening)
Starring: Chris Messina (Greenberg), Logan Marshall-Green (Brooklyn’s Finest), Jenny O’Hara (Extract), Bojana Novakovic (Edge of Darkness), Bokeem Woodbine (Black Dynamite), Geoffrey Arend (500 Days of Summer), Jacob Vargas (Death Race)
Run-Time: 80 minutes
Release Date: Friday, September 17th, 2010
Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language including sexual references.

As I reported in my first review, the trailer for Devil piqued my interest, to say the least. With a story by M. Night Shyamalan that would’ve made Hitchcock or Rod Serling proud, I was pumped to see what I hoped to be a return to form for the man who brought us The Sixth Sense and, personally more importantly, Unbreakable.

Apparently, Avatar: The Las The Last Airbender left a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths (not mine, or my ever-present movie-going partner Patrick's). This seems to have led to the birth of a hivemind-like running joke: every time Shyamalan’s name appeared on screen, the audience collectively groaned. This led me to create my own running joke; every time Devil appeared on screen, I’d announce loudly, “Deville?” It certainly decreased in hilarity with each weekly use, but I’d be damned if I’d let the audience’s transgression go unpunished. Sure, I loathed The Happening, but the man made Unbreakable! For me, that’s more than enough to look forward to another movie with his name on it. But, enough back-story.

The trailer did a pretty good job of setting up the story. Five people are stuck on an elevator and one’s the devil. But who!? That’s what our attractive, emotionally-burdened detective (Messina) and religious security guy (Vargas) aim to find out. Our choices are: black temp security guard (Woodbine), shifty mattress salesman who gets to have sex with Christina Hendricks (Arend), little old lady (O’Hara), well-dressed young woman (Novakovic), and shady-looking white guy (Marshall-Green). Each has a reason for being on the elevator, but the whys and wherefores spread throughout the entire film.

The action within the elevator is obviously the focal point, but the accompanying dialogue is somewhat bland and expository. This is understandable, considering more than half the movie takes place in a tiny box suspended in midair. On the other hand, the dialogue between the detective, his partner (Joshua Peace, bit player in films like Survival of the Dead and Lars and the Real Girl), the religious security guard, and the other main security guard (Matt Craven, Shia LaBeouf’s dead dad in Disturbia) was well-done and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. The two sides of the story compliment each other nicely.

As for the ol’ Shyamalan twist, it’s back and in full effect. I had my hunch from the beginning, but the story really did keep me guessing ‘til the end. Several different techniques made me change my initial guess, but then THE TWEEST occurs, and low and behold, I was right all along! To be fair, it was mostly a guess. But the trip to THE TWEEST was fun and kept me glued to my seat for the duration.

Additionally, the music was good, and at times brought to mind the Inception trailer’s famous BBBRRRRMMMMM (also known as Mind Heist by Zack Hemsey). The movie was shot beautifully, and certainly created a suffocating environment inside the elevator. The PG-13 rating may cause some to pause, but the film cleverly uses what it doesn’t show you to its advantage. Every time the lights flicker, you will find yourself full of dread, gritting your teeth and straining not to cover your eyes. I have not seen a movie in some time that has pulled off that effect with such aptitude.

You may have hated his last few movies, but Shyamalan, who merely came up with the story and produced, has delivered a terrific first installment of his Night Chronicles trilogy. I can not wait for the next two.

Damn, it feels good to say that.

Score: 8/10.

Fun Fact: As I mentioned, Devil is the first of a trilogy of tales entitled The Night Chronicles. The next one, entitled Reincarnate, deals with a jury overseeing a case dealing with the supernatural. The third movie will incorporate ideas Shyamalan had originally planned to use for a sequel to Unbreakable. Awesome.

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