Devil, released in 2010, is not a film that I was planning on reviewing in full. I put it on one afternoon simply because I’m on a mission to see all of Chris Messina’s films. I had a couple of hours to kill and wasn’t in the mood to do a serious/critical watch. And this was one of Netflix’s Messina offerings which I had not yet given a watch. A prime choice for a laid-back viewing and a quick “Modern Movies” review.
But being the compulsive blogger that I am, I couldn’t stop myself from taking down a full review’s worth of notes after the film began, promisingly, with some upside-down photography and spooky narration about the devil roaming the earth.
(As much as I liked the idea of this opening, I will admit I had to shut my eyes through some of it, as I’m extremely prone to motion sickness. The illusion of moving through a skyline upside-down was enough to evoke strong nausea in me, so fair warning if you don’t have your photographic “sea legs.” This is not a problem during the rest of the film.)
Messina stars as Detective Bowden, a recovering alcoholic who is back on the job and six months sober, but still battling the demons of a troubled past. In addition to his issues with alcohol abuse, he is still grieving the loss of his wife and son, who were killed in a hit-and-run accident five years prior to the events of the film.
He starts out working a suicide case. A man has jumped to his death from a high floor of a skyscraper. While Bowden’s on scene for this investigation, he must take on another: In the very same building from which the man jumped, five people have been trapped in an elevator, and they’re beginning to experience mysterious injuries (or worse), one by one.
Bowden must work quickly to rescue the five strangers from the elevator, because a security guard in the building suspects that one of the trapped is the devil, planning to kill the other four and steal their souls.
John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) directs Devil, a film produced and based on a story by the ever-divisive filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.
I had no clue Shyamalan was involved in this until after watching, but it seems very obvious now that I know. It’s got the same “Look at me, I’m so spooky!” overzealousness of many of the films he’s associated with, and all of the signs are there story-wise: a connection to the main character’s past; the fact that two of the characters were haunted by car wrecks; the religious themes; the over-the-top music during the big “scare” moments; the corny twist of an ending.
That being said… I don’t hate Shyamalan’s films as much as most people seem to, which should come as no surprise considering my affection for the corn. I am not ashamed to admit that I owned Signs on VHS as a young’n and watched it frequently. As for Devil, this is no high-quality horror flick and it doesn’t live up to its fun/dizzy opening, but it kept my interest well enough.
Once revealed, the plot twist feels cheap and familiar, but I had only narrowed my list of devil-suspects down to two by the time it was revealed. This is more than I can say for some thrillers, where I figure out what the “big reveal” will be within the first five minutes.
Though I wouldn’t consider it a “Classic of the Corn,” Devil does have a third of a cob or so, contributing to my enjoyment. For instance, in one scene, the presence of the devil is tested by a security guard throwing a piece of PB&J toast in the air. The toast lands jelly-side down, so the devil must be present. I will remember this devil-finding technique the next time I suspect a threatening, supernatural presence in my home.
And of course, what’s not to like about a film that stars Messina? He’s such a solid performer, and he does as well as he can with the material given to him here. The characters are all shallow and underdeveloped, but his role seems to be the meatiest of the bunch despite the fact that all of his dialogue revolves around:
A. The accident (which he is weirdly willing to openly talk about all the time, even with people he’s just met).
B. His sobriety.
C. How desperately he wants to get into the elevator and SAVE SOME LIVES, like the good cop he is.
That’s a testament to a capable actor, the fact that a role with so little depth or variation seems stronger than it is. Messina elevates the material.
Devil is not a great film by any stretch, but it’s not a terrible watch, either. I certainly wouldn’t add it to my list of Messina favorites, but I would probably be willing to watch it once more (if for no other reason than to keep an eye out for more super-useful devil-detecting tricks). The score: 1.5/5