Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Devil" wastes great premise


Devil (2010) 
80 min., rated R.
Grade: C

"Devil" makes you wonder what Hitchcock would've done with such a doozy of a campfire-story premise that Rod Serling might've written. “Ten Little Indians” in an elevator: Five strangers (Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green), each with a shady past, get stuck in the elevator of a Philadelphia high-rise office building after someone has committed suicide out of the 35th floor window. Now which one of them is the Devil? 

The first in “The Night Chronicles,” producer M. Night Shyamalan's supposed series of films, "Devil" is a tight 80 minutes, but disappointingly does very little with its idea. John Erick Dowdle's (2008's "Quarantine") direction is confident, his framing helping with the tension and claustrophobia, and long moments of darkness and flickering lights are effective. The dizzying opening credit shots of downtown bridges turned 180 degrees upside down are especially disorienting. But Brian Nelson's screenplay (Shyamalan credited for story) so thinly draws its characters that it's tough for us to care who lives, who dies, and who's Beelzebub. Not to mention the lazy, stupid writing that reveals the devilish culprit, and as for a second story twist about repentance and forgiveness, it's not at all surprising. A superstitious security guard's (Jacob Vargas) unnecessary narration, voicing his vast knowledge of El Diablo, feeds us exposition and only stunts the suspense. (Bet you never knew that dropping your toast, having it land jelly side down, is the work of Satan himself. Ah, the surprise is gone.) 

As for Fernando Velázquez's doom-laden, shut-up-already musical score, every time a loud noise clangs on the soundtrack it's supposed to count as a scare. For a “trapped in an elevator” suspense movie, "Devil" starts off with promise, then just goes down as wasted potential.

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