22 April 2011

Movies: Devil

Devil (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1314655/

Supernatural horror flick. Produced by, and story by, M. Night Shyamalan. Yeah - the 6th Sense guy.
The screenplay was written by Brian Nelson (writer of Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night) and it was directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine - not too bad a flick IIRC).  So you aren't going to get the full M. Night experience, but you can still feel M. Night's fingers wriggling through the script.

Story: Two cops are investigating a death, most likely a suicide. Obviously the person had jumped from a great height and landed on a truck, but the truck was sitting near a two-story building. One cop realizes that there's no glass on the ground so he guesses the truck may have rolled to its current location. They backtrack to a skyscraper up the street, the one with glass on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, five folks (two women, three men) get in an express elevator. Partway up the elevator stops.  While building security and maintenance try to get the car operating again strange things begin happening inside the elevator. The lights flicker on and off, during a dark moment the younger woman suffers a savage bite to her back, one that draws blood. People start really freaking out.  During another lights on-and-off episode a mirror in the car shatters and a shard is stabbed in the neck of one of the men, killing him. The security folks see the aftermath on the car security monitor and call the cops to report the murder.Remember the cops investigating the suicide? Well, it just so happens that the stuck elevator car with the murderous mayhem party is in the same building as the suicide jumper's origin. So those cops set aside their suicide investigation and get in on observing the elevator murder car.

Things I liked about the flick:
The opening sequence is rather unsettling. Granted, it is just a flyover over the city, but it is upside down. After a bit it started to unsettle even my stomach, and usually I'm not bothered by such things. I liked that.
The premise of the film was pretty good, as supernatural horror flicks go. Five folks stuck in an elevator. Random killings start taking place, whittling the number of living occupants down. Folks watching helplessly from outside, unable to halt the killings, unable to identify the murderer, scrambling to figure out who is in the elevator and track down their pasts.
Apparently red herrings were on sale when they wrote this film. Keeping the audience guessing is a good thing.  I almost guessed who was the Devil incarnate and almost guessed how they were pulling it off, but then I second-guessed myself out of the answers just as soon. The red herrings did their job.
We know who the murderer is from the get-go. They named the film after him. But that premise worked within the framework of the film.  It's supposed to be a supernatural horror film, so supernatural away.

Things that detracted from my film viewing experience:
At times the dialog just sucked.
The acting was varying degrees of mediocre to almost effective.  They weren't terrible actors, just competent ones. Except Jenny O'Hara - she's been in tons of stuff and her experience clearly set her performance apart from the rest of the cast.
Elevator occupants freaked out and started grousing at each other too quickly after the elevator stopped.  Instead of a steady escalation of people getting irritated and increasingly taking it out on those around them it seemed like everyone jumped to "you're on my last nerve" almost immediately.
Yes, plenty of horror flicks in the past have been able to successfully thrill an audience by engaging their imagination with scary violent acts performed off-camera and in the dark. This film tries the same tactic. For some reason it didn't work for me. I didn't feel the escalation of suspense the film was going for.
We know who the murderer is from the get-go. They named the film after him. But even though the premise was fine, the security guard who tells us the mythology behind the Devil's motivations irritated the heck out of me. I realize he has to tell us the mythological framework - that's an M. Night 'thing'. But toast landing jelly-side down = the devil is killing people in the elevator? It's bad enough the guard believes that, it's worse anyone else takes him seriously and considers that a valid logical conclusion.
We get to know very little about any of the characters, except one. We get a big dose of one character's past. So thank you script for clubbing me over the head and saying "pay attention to this guy's back story because it ties in with everything else by the end of the film."* When only the one character gets such an extensive back story it is very obvious what the twist is gonna be in light of the mythology bludgeoned into the story by the security guard.

I don't know why the film failed in its thrill/suspense factor for me. Maybe I'm too desensitized by (Hitchcock) films that pull it off so much better.  This film fell short especially contrasted with Buried, as a most recent example, which seemed to do fine with suspense building.

However, despite the things I considered to be irritants, the movie still worked on some levels. I did stay interested for the most part, mostly because I wanted to see how it played out, especially to see if my suspicions on connections were correct.

The film is entertaining in its way, kindof weak in other ways, kind of tired in an M. Night** way.
If you feel like you can enjoy a horror film that is somewhat tamed, minimal blood, light on the violence, this should be an okay film to watch. If the only horror that works for you are the gory slasher-style horror flicks you probably will be less thrilled by the film.  Not a great nor groundbreaking film, not a terrible film. Smack in the middle.

*One thing I always keep in mind when watching films: Checkov's Gun.  If the film shows us or tells us something, there usually is a reason, and I watch for it and try to anticipate it's significance. Yeah - less surprises that way, but a fun way to try to 'win' by figuring out the film before the film shows it to ya.

** The M. Night way: tell us the mythology, the film follows the mythology, we get a Twist.  And it's corollary: Checkov's Gun us, red herring us, Twist!

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