Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Occasionally you can watch a film when you’re in the wrong mood and it seems somehow better than it actually is. Likely you catch this film when you’re fatigued, crashed out on the sofa and expectant that the magic box will entertain you as you lazily flick through the channels. You think to yourself “Oh, this movie starts at nine. ‘Devil’? Nice title. It must be a horror. Ok, I’ll watch that”.
As I write this now I wonder whether I should re-watch ‘Devil’ and get a fresh perspective. My recollection feels hazy. I know I enjoyed this film, but I wonder if this was because I was so damn tired. It was on, and it gave me a light entertainment fix. Isn’t that enough?
I’d not heard of ‘Devil’ before and therefore missed out on the trailers, or any buzz the film may have received. There’s a possibility also that it went the same way as any of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films went, digested then shat from my memory bank. Perhaps I saw the trailer and then wiped it from my memory. So, ‘Devil’, a film that was completely new to me. I didn’t have the barrier of cynicism obscuring my judgement. I think this is another reason why I give the film two crooked thumbs up.
‘Devil’ contains one of my favourite cinema tropes – the ineffective security guard. As someone who has worked on and off in the security industry for the last five years I get perhaps a little over excited whenever I see a scene set in a CCTV room, or a static guard manning the reception desk of a corporate building, scratching his balls and looking dozy. Disappointingly the stereotype of a hopeless guard is accurate. The job zombifies you, turns you into a goon.
There are several sub D-level actors in the main cast of ‘Devil’ including the funny looking fellow who everybody hates because he is married to the curvaceous red head lass from ‘Mad Men’. This is the kind of cast made up of actors who are usually background members, at best they only get to deliver a few lines. Each line is delivered with desperation, in a ‘this is my moment’ way. The obscurity of these actors fits well with the premise of five everyday random people who find themselves trapped in the lift of a corporate building. None of them have names, they are credited as salesman, guard, young woman, old woman and mechanic. Strangers thrown together who quickly get irritable.
The concept of the film came from the frustrating mind of M. Night Shyamalan, a director who after the ‘Sixth Sense’ has consistently shot himself in the foot. You know what you’re going to get from a horror connected to Shyamalan, and that is usually an old school throw back tension builder. It’s obvious you won’t see the monster until the very end. In the case of ‘Devil’ it is more the threatening idea of the personification of evil which creates the scare. How Beelzebub might exist in human form.
Given that a significant proportion of the film takes places in the cramped confines of a lift the film doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There is movement aplenty, and somehow the way the film is shot it gives the impression that the lift is spacious; contrast that to the effective use of space in tight thrillers like ‘Buried’ or 2012’s ‘Brake’. You see the five folk sweating and bickering but you don’t see them getting thirsty, hungry or wanting to go to the toilet. I suppose that’s not much of an issue when evil is in the air.