Devil (John Erick Dowdle, 2010)
I will admit right up front that part of my rating of Devil is my fault, not the movie’s; I watched the horrific non-Asylum mockbuster of Devil, a crappy no-budget knockoff called Elevator, a few months before I watched the original film. I probably also had my expectations lowered by M. Night Shyamalan’s name being attached, since Shyamalan hasn’t actually made a decent film since 2000’s Unbreakable; here he’s limited to a co-writing credit, but that didn’t stop the movie’s advance-publicity team from splashing his name, rather than Dowdle’s, all over the ads. Not a great idea; Dowdle is much less well-known, but his first few films showed a great deal of promise, and his first big Hollywood production, Quarantine, is one of the few Hollywood horror remakes that isn’t absolute crap. Devil isn’t as good as that, nor as good as Dowdle’s last original, 2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes, but it’s good enough for a watch, and it’s nice to see Dowdle doing something that isn’t gimmicky (Poughkeepsie, like Quarantine, is an entry in the found-footage subgenre).
Plot: Five people on an elevator. One of them is actually the devil. Is it the temp security guard (Riddick‘s Bokeem Woodbine), who just started working at the building this morning? The slick salesman (Super Troopers‘ Geofrrey Arend), the slimy guy everyone else in the elevator immediately grows to hate? The acerbic old lady (Mystic River‘s Jenny O’Hara) who doesn’t have a nice word for anyone, and gets an order of magnitude more abusive once the elevator gets stuck? The fashionista (Drag Me to Hell‘s Bojana Novikovic) who tries to act as a mediator for all these explosive personalities? Or is it the guy we see at the beginning of the movie lurking around the front door looking suspicious in a hoodie (Prometheus‘ Logan Marshall-Green)? While all this is going on, a pair of cops (Argo‘s Chris Messina and Pacific Rim‘s Josh Peace) are investigating a suicide earlier in the day in the same building that may or may not tie into it all, and two security guards (Crimson Tide‘s Matt Craven and Death Race‘s Jacob Vargas) are trying whatever they can to get the elevator running again.
That the “OH, WTF” plot twist towards the end can be spotted from a mile away (you’ll probably know it’s coming from the moment it’s set up, I did) is a letdown, but that concerns a subplot in the film that, honestly, you can probably ignore. You’re not here for subplots anyway (though the cheesiness of it is, well, worthy of M. Night Shyamalan), you’re here for the devil in an elevator. And in that respect, Dowdle delivers; the “who’s who?” angle is handled with a deft enough touch that you should be kept enough in the dark to be able to enjoy what you’re seeing, even if it comes with some groans when all the pieces are put together. This one could have been much better than it is with some judicious editing, but what we got is watchable enough. ** ½
BONUS VIDEO! For those of you who didn’t catch the reference in the subtitle.