Friday, April 8, 2011

Film Friday: Devil (2010)

Based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, Devil is a supernatural thriller involving five people stuck in an elevator. What’s worse, one of them is the devil, and he’s come to torment the rest and take their souls. This sounds like an intense, psychological, claustrophobic thriller. And it actually isn't a bad movie. But I just can’t recommend it because it provides a great example of how some movies can be less than the sum of their parts.

** spoiler alert **

Let’s start with the good parts. The film is well shot. It’s got interesting visuals, good angles and the right feel for this type of film. . . kind of an eerie isolation without feeling contrived. It’s got good acting too. There wasn’t a point where any of the actors didn’t fit their roles or couldn’t pull off what they were tasked. The writing is competent in that the characters act in ways you would expect and none of them does anything stupid or silly to drive the plot. The plot is solid too and is surprisingly suspenseful. Indeed, despite the narrow premise of five people being killed in an elevator as the police watch, it manages to keep you guessing as to what will happen next and which of them is the devil.

The film also has good values and continues a trend where Hollywood is becoming surprisingly respectful of religion. For example, the first character to recognize what might be going on is a deeply religious security guard. And while the other guard tells him he's crazy (a perfectly natural response) he doesn't go out of his way to bash religion. The detective (Chris Messina) also doesn't believe at first, but quickly comes around when the facts start pointing to a supernatural event. Moreover, the story itself centers around themes of redemption and forgiveness, and treats both in a positive light. Indeed, according to the film, seeking redemption or offering forgiveness can save you from the devil.

All of this combines to make a perfectly serviceable film that I enjoyed well enough. But I wouldn’t want to watch it again. Here’s why.

For starters, the film never lives up to its promise. The premise seems like a claustrophobic, psychological thriller. But it never achieves that. In fact, the characters in the elevator barely interact -- the story centers almost entirely on the detective. Thus, you never feel trapped. And there really are no complex choices to be made which would make this a psychological thriller.

Nor do the consequences seem that high. We're told that everyone in the elevator is a rotten human being who hurts people. So the fact the devil has come to kill them really isn't upsetting. And while there are one or two others who die as well, we don’t know enough about them to know if their deaths are any less deserved. What's worse, there’s no lesson/warning here because there's no indication of why these four were chosen. Their transgressions aren’t small enough to make the point that any evil deed is enough to put you at risk. Nor are their transgressions large enough to explain why the devil would come for them personally. Indeed, there's no sense that these people are all that special or that the devil will somehow gain an advantage over humanity or God or make some larger point by taking them. Thus, from a danger/risk/lesson-to-be-learned perspective, there’s nothing to warn the audience they might be next. It is suggested the devil only came this day because a suicide brought him. But what's the lesson there? If someone kills themselves, we should flee the scene? And if that is the lesson, then it's poorly developed.

Further, the redemption issue is treated too simplistically. Apparently, all you need to do to keep the devil at bay is try to do some good deed at the last minute. This strikes me as dumbing down good and evil/damnation and redemption to the point that they become meaningless. Also, the redeemed character literally doesn’t even try to seek redemption until Satan is staring them in the face saying “you’re next.” That’s not genuine redemption, that's fear talking. Further, the self-sacrifice they offer to get the redemption is fake. Basically, they give it the old "take me instead of the other person" cliché. But since the devil was going to take both, they aren't really offering anything and the sacrifice isn't genuine.

As an aside, this particular redemption involves a coincidence that is one of those bridge-too-far type coincidences that probably excited the writer when they wrote it, but seems too incredible to believe and serves no real purpose for advancing the story.

Finally, we come to my biggest complaint. The devil is one of the most intriguing characters you can jam into a film, and if you’re going to use the devil, then you better have something interesting to say about him. Yet, this movie doesn’t really have much to say in that regard. Indeed, the devil could just as easily have been a serial killer or a vampire without the movie missing a beat. Moreover, the devil comes across as kind of pathetic. For example, why does the devil need to hide his identity? Is he afraid the cops will bust him? And why even bother with this whole affair. These people are rotten and should be in hell a few minutes after their deaths anyway, so why come to earth just to make them fear for their lives for a few minutes beforehand? And why come personally? Does this seem like a good use of the devil’s time to waste a whole day in an elevator killing four people?

When you’re telling a supernatural story, you can go the adrenaline route of having gory things jump out of shadows or you can go for the kind of send-a-shiver-down-your-spine ideas that get people rethinking their own lives. This film doesn’t do either. It doesn’t even try. In the end, that’s the real problem with Devil: it’s just a film about some people killed on an elevator by a mildly supernatural being. Hence, while the film felt well-made, and I liked all of its parts individually, they never added up to anything satisfying.

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30 comments:

Patti said...

andrew: i used to lurv shyamalan, and then i profoundly didn't as i felt he got lazy in his story-telling. too bad, that.

on an unrelated not, notawonk has a troll today! yay. come on over everyone and poke "heather" with a sharp stick! it's good clean fun for everyone!

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I'll be right over to check out your troll! :-)

I feel the same about Shyamalan. I thought his first couple were great and then he seemed to put less and less effort into making the stories interesting. At this point, I can't think of the last one of this his that I liked.

Ed said...

Netflix sent me this one! LOL! I guess I should have waited to read your review first. You say you enjoyed it enough though?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I liked it when I watched it. It wasn't great and it felt weak, but it was worth watching the one time. But I wouldn't watch it again and I would recommend that the next time they make a film (apparently this will be the first in a series of three) that they dig a little deeper into the idea vault.

Ed said...

That's good to know. So what are your favorite M. Night films?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, In order it would be The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable and then The Village. Though there is a big drop off between each. And the others I really don't like at all.

By the way, M. Night didn't direct this one, he just wrote the story.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Andrew - I kind of agree with you and Patti. I recognize that when you hit a grand slam early, it is hard to live up to the hype. I also recognize that I've lived in Bucks and Chester Countie within a couple of miles from where "The Village" was shot and "Signs." Plus i worked just a few blocks from where much of "Sixth Sense" was shot. BUT, while creating a built in soft spot, that is not the same as making a great movie. To show how far he has fallen, "Devil" was not even on my radar. Your review confirms the concerns I would expect. That said, while it may be down the list of things to see, I'll probably see it when I get an opportunity.

I apologize for going off topic, but am currently reading Lincoln Lawyer in prep for the movie. I like Michael Connolly, but this is his first foray into legal thriller territory, so would be interested.

Ah, that's not fair . . . let me know off line or during an open thread. Thanks for the review.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You're welcome. I absolutely agree that it's very hard to live up to your first shot being a home run, and I think it's very unfair that people have continually compared all of his films against The Sixth Sense. Indeed, there's no reason to see a good film like Signs as somehow a failure just because it isn't as good as Sixth Sense. Each film really should be judged on its own merits. And when we do that, I think we'll find that many of his film are better than people give them credit for.

That said, I think he's slipped a lot since his early efforts. I don't know if got lazy or if he surrounded himself with "yes" men? I just don't know. But what I do know is that as time has past, his films have gotten all around shallower and his style hasn't really evolved. And as a result most of his recent films have bombed.

This one kind of came and went and I only saw a couple ads for it. It wasn't until the other day that I even remembered it. By the way, let me stress, M. Night did not direct this, though he wrote the story and he was deeply involved. The director was Brian Nelson.


On the The Lincoln Lawyer, feel free to send me an e-mail or comment here or we can talk Sunday in the open thread. One caveat though, I haven't read it yet so I may not have much to add to the conversation?

JG said...

Interesting. I'm also an old-school Shyamalan fan but I don't do horror movies, so I had skipped this one. Doesn't look like I missed much. Thanks for the review!

AndrewPrice said...

JG, You're welcome. This one is an odd one because it's ostensibly a horror movie, but it really plays out more like a cop movie with some cliche horror moments.

Glad to see we have so many M. Night Shyamalan fans! Good taste must run in conservative circles! :-)

T_Rav said...

"At this point, I can't think of the last one of his that I liked."

"Avatar: The Last Airbender"? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Yeah, that's the one! LOL!

LawHawkRFD said...

Shyamalan lost me back at The Village. You know when the Scary Movie satire is better than the original, you're in trouble.

AndrewPrice said...

I generally liked The Village but I think it could have been better if he's chosen to make it either a horror story or a roman, but not a little bit of both.

And the Scary Movie parody really did do a lot of damage to that film for me, because I keep seeing parts of the parody in my head whenever I watch the original.

Ed said...

My favorite M. Night film is "Sixth Sense." After that, I like "Unbreakable." The rest are kind of a blur to me.

So what do you think about the shut down? Have you seen all the nasty quotes the Democrats are putting out, trying to equate the shutdown to racism, killing old people and oppressing women?

Ed said...

Sorry to go off topic on you, but I do value your opinion on these issues. :D

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I like Signs a lot. I think that's probably the best Close-Encounters like movie since Close Encounters. I like The Village too, though it could have been a lot better if he's pick one or the other genres.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yep, and thanks!

On the shut down, yep, I've seen a lot of the quotes. T_Rav and I were talking about them in the article from yesterday -- we've listed several of them there.

Right now, I think the Democrats are playing this all wrong. They are out there telling the American public that they one issue they will shut the government down for is to make sure that abortion groups get government funding. That's not going to play well because it shows that they aren't interested in all in the one issue the public cares about -- spending, and that they can't get beyond the ideology.

What's your take?

Ed said...

Andrew, I'll check those out. You think the abortion issue will play against the Democrats? Aren't the Republicans the ones pushing the issue?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I do think this will blow up on the Democrats, here's why -- the public isn't interested in abortion or any other social issue right now. The last election was all about economics. When the Republicans decided to make abortion a key issue in the shutdown game, that was a mistake (even Mike Huckabee is now saying to forget the abortion issue and prevent a shut down because he sees the real issue coming up with Ryan's budget). BUT, as with everything else, the Democrats have overplayed it. They turned it from "dumb Republicans won't stop fighting culture issues to we will win this to save abortion." Basically, they took over the losing argument and are now parading around with it on their backs.

Ed said...

Andrew, That's an interesting take and could be right. All the MSM are running with the story that the democrats are doing this save abortion.

I'm going to watch "Devil" tonight and I'll let you know what I think later.

Doc Whoa said...

This is another excellent review. Thanks! I saw this last week and had similar thoughts -- good but flat.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Definitely let us know what you think.

On the other issue, we'll see. I'm thinking your prediction from the other day of a weekend deal makes a lot of sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc! Any part of the movie you liked particularly or disliked particularly? Anything you think could have been better? And how? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Speak of the devil, (no pun intended) I just saw that they reached a deal to continue funding into next week so they have more time to work things out.

The deal includes $37.8 billion in cuts, which is much closer to Boehner's $40 billion than Reid's $30 billion.

AndrewPrice said...

And to add more info, it looks like the House freshmen are onboard and seem quite pleased. :-)

Ed said...

Darn, do I still win the pool? Lol!

CrispyRice said...

Funny, I totally missed this one! I'm not going to read the review 'til I watch it. Thanks for the heads up!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, No.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Enjoy! Let us know what you think! :-)

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