Devil’s Day Out

Death rides an elevator in Dowdle’s Devil I’m claustrophobic in my day-to-day life, but at the movies, I’m a sucker for all things small and confined, from Ingmar Bergman’s stark chamber dramas to George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. Just put some people and some tension in a room and I’m there. With that said, director John Erick Dowdle’s Devil still surprised me. From the first shots (hugely disorienting, beautifully simple zooms into an upside-down Philadelphia skyline) to its final scenes, Devil manages to get nearly everything right. Most importantly, it embraces its simplicity when most other films would scramble to hide it. The above mentioned skyline views eventually take us into a large office building, from which someone has just jumped to their death. According to the voiceover, this suicide is setting in motion a bloody chain of events. As detective Bowden (Chris Messina) arrives to investigate, five strangers enter the building for appointments and find themselves in the same elevator, which soon stops working. Inside, there’s a security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a salesman (Geoffrey Arend), an ex-Marine (Logan Marshall-Green), a high-strung older woman (Jenny O’Hara) and an apparently affluent young one (Bojana Novakovic). As their time in the elevator elapses, strange things begin to happen and, one by one, they inexplicably start becoming corpses. The basic concept is that Satan has come to Philadelphia to mess with people for a day. If you have a problem with Devil, it’ll probably be this premise, which I’ll admit is a little silly. But the movie’s creepiness comes not from the potential presence of the devil, but from the simple idea of people in a box going crazy. The “twist ending,” if you can call it that, is hinted at early and often, and you’ll have a much better time if you ignore it altogether. Unfortunately, the devil eventually becomes Devil’s only problem. M. Night Shyamalan, the executive producer and man behind the original story, has his name all over this thing. And if that name is bringing good things to the screen and people in to see it (debatable these days, I know), then he certainly deserves some credit. The real praises, though, belong to Dowdle, whose impressive directorial instincts, along with the solid work of his relatively small cast (Messina in particular) make Devil a creepy and intense late-summer surprise. GRADE: B+

posted at 08:23 pm
on Friday, September 24th, 2010

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