“A creepy salesman, an old woman, a rent-a-cop, a comely young lady, and a loner are stuck in a broken elevator…”
It’s either a set-up for what I’m sure would be a rather amusing joke, or it’s Devil, the latest from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan (who is credited only as producer and with the original story).
Fortunately it’s the latter, and while Devil isn’t terribly scary or suspenseful, it’s still a solid 80 minutes (yes, only 80 minutes) of entertainment.
The gimmick here (as with Hitchcock’s Lifeboat) is that most of the movie is shot inside a single, tiny location. Here, it’s a 10 x 10 elevator in a Philly skyscraper. The other gimmick (No, it’s not a spoiler—it’s the title of the movie for heaven’s sake) is that one of the five people in the elevator is Old Scratch himself. Satan. The Devil.
Which person is it? Well, for having pretty good odds (1-in-5), you might not figure it out, which means, frankly, that Shyamalan might have something left in the tank after all.
The action begins with Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) investigating a suicide outside the same office building where (inside) the five people are all finding their way to the elevator. Twenty floors up, the elevator stalls, and almost immediately the panic begins.
The mattress salesman is making inappropriate comments. The rent-a-cop reveals that he’s claustrophobic. The loner just stands in one corner, brooding. And all the while, building security (watching on a closed circuit camera) is trying to get the elevator running again… to no avail.
After a few minutes the lights start flickering, leaving the elevator-ees flashing in and out of darkness. When the lights come back on, one of them has been attacked and is bleeding, so Bowden gets pulled off his suicide investigation and takes over, only to watch as people start getting picked off one-by-one.
Eventually we learn who the devil is, why the people are there (they all have ‘chosen poorly’ in their past), and how Bowden fits into the equation, but things never really get white-knuckle scary. Fortunately, though, that’s perfectly fine. What Devil lacks in terror, it makes up for with a clever script, brilliant camera work, and top-notch performances from the relatively no-name cast.
Yes, director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) and screenwriter Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night) could have ramped up the suspense more, but it’s not really necessary. In the end, Devil rises above what could have just been gimmicks to provide a neat-and-clean hour-plus of good storytelling.
Another three or four movies like this, and Shyamalan will almost make up for The Last Airbender.