“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 NIV.
Those words from the Bible, or at least a variation of, open the latest thriller Devil. Within the context of the film, they serve one single purpose: to set up a supernatural story where evil people come face to face with Satan himself in an elevator. From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, but thankfully neither written nor directed by him, Devil is a solid, if a bit underwhelming, horror movie.
The story is simple. Five people get on an elevator. There’s a fragile old woman (Jenny O’Hara), an attractive young girl (Bojana Novakovic), a claustrophobic security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a loud mouthed salesman (Geoffrey Arend) and a soft spoken, rugged man (Logan Marshall-Green). One of them is the devil. After the elevator breaks down, strange things begin to happen and Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), who doesn’t believe in God and the devil, is the closest person on the job that can help.
Perhaps to counteract Detective Bowden’s atheism (but mostly to provide some background for the flimsy narrative), there’s a religious security guard (Jacob Vargas) who knows exactly what is going on. His mother used to tell him stories about how Satan works and he knows from the get go that he is on that elevator, manifested in one of those people. He tries to convince Bowden, despite his skepticism, telling him, “Everybody believes in him a little bit, even if they pretend not to.” It’s a classic tale of a non-religious person learning that there is indeed deeper meaning to life and someone is out there looking over us.
It’s a noble story that’s been done to death, but it doesn’t necessarily work here because Bowden is an outside spectator and the chills of the movie rest inside that elevator. Devil tries to have it both ways by crafting a morality tale of forgiveness and understanding outside while also hoping to provide a claustrophobic nightmare within the broken down lift, but neither fully work.
When the movie reaches its most tense moments inside the elevator, it repeatedly ruins them by cutting away to the events outside. It lacks that feeling of the walls closing in on you that movies like The Descent or the upcoming Buried possess. While some characters address the camera directly, effectively placing you in the shoes of someone in that elevator, the movie leaves its confines too much, which strips away much of its dread.
However, it does a decent job of keeping you guessing until the end, though that’s only because there aren't any real clues to tip you off. Who the devil is in the movie doesn’t seem to be so important. Any of them could be and it wouldn’t make much difference. Each of the characters in the elevator are interchangeable, almost to a fault, and some of the ways the film throws you off the right trail is almost cheating, but I commend Devil for restraining itself when it came to the violence and for not succumbing to the temptations of a typical Hollywood ending. While it’s not perfect, and despite having Shyamalan’s name attached to it, there’s something unsettling in Devil that I just can’t shake. If anything, that’s a good thing.
Devil receives 3/5