DIRECTED BY JOHN ERICK DOWDLE
STARRING: CHRIS MESSINA, LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN, JENNY O’HARA, BOJANA NOVAKOVIC, BOKEEM WOODBINE, JACOB VARGAS, JOSHUA PEACE with GEOFFREY AREND and MATT CRAVEN
‘Devil’ is conceptualized by Manoj Night Shyamalan (‘the Sixth Sense’, ‘the Happening’) and directed by John Erick Dowdle (‘Quarantine’), two people with contrasting histories in this type of movie. Shyamalan can’t break crust without drama, Dowdle could have made ‘Paranormal Activity’ had it occurred to him. It’s two schools of thought in a destructive mismatch. Kind of like Nicolas Winding Refn meets a John Woo treatment in a horror-drama equivalent. The story could have worked with a little lesser, the film needed a whole lot more. The balance was never achieved.
Remember Joel Schumacher’s ‘Phonebooth’? ‘Devil’ has an elevator-replacement of that claustrophobic space, with the ‘voice on the other side’ taken a little too literally. And no Forest Whitaker to save the day either. You’re in for confusion. What is it that’s going on? There’s a difference between ‘suspense’ and a lack of clarity. The ball could have gone both ways on multiple occasions. Immaturity, we find, has been confused with prowess. We’re having to marvel at baby-talk. It’s cute in a puff-pout sort of way. It amounts to little else.
Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) narrates the story of how ‘he’ (personifying the ‘adversary’; the ‘alpha and the omega’ in small letters) comes to surface with a mission, how he moves in on his prey, and how there’s nothing anyone can do to put a stop. Five people are trapped in an elevator. We learn their names in a scramble and hence assume unimportance. There’s a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a temp on guard-duty (Bokeem Woodbine), a wizened old woman (Jenny O’Hara), a smartly-dressed young woman (Bojana Novakovic) and a young man (Logan Marshall-Green) who wears his jeans like overalls so you know exactly what he is. Glad we didn’t have an axle-grease giveaway as well.
The film opens with a man falling to his death like one of those crazies in Shyamalan’s ‘the Happening’. He holds a Rosary in his hand. Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) at the scene of crime tells his partner (Joshua Peace) the most obvious thing – that someone who’s grabbed his Rosary beads cannot have been pushed. Ramirez would disagree. So would the face in the elevator; the parlor trick. It’s freaky, it’s funny. But everyone is serious about it. That’s horror for you. Innocent people die, people are killed in front of their loved ones just to show the cynics. Come on. That’s not the Devil. That’s a truck-driver on an alcohol high running headfirst into a school-road-crossing. That’s an Adolf Hitler parody. We’re talking about the ‘only one’, the fallen angel. Isn’t it time we gave him some class?
Slowly we find that the five inside didn’t chance to be, but were meant to be. As was the Detective. That was a head-turning bit of detail, nevertheless completely anticipated. There’s no marks to guessing it’s a supernatural thriller and not a ‘whodunit’. It’s more like a ‘howdunit’. Safety cables, glassware, mirrors, electric mains all come from the ‘Final Destination’ franchise. The Devil has his contacts. He’s pretty sure-shot about that. People fall like pins and you’re not to ask if they deserved it. What saddened me was that you could have, but in a different movie. I wanted that movie. ‘Devil’, at one point, was so engaging, so brimming with potential that I desperately wished it wouldn’t disappoint me. It did. With the very ruthlessness of the one in question.
I can’t tell you more without giving it all away. Trust me, it wouldn’t matter. You could watch it instead, but you’d only be watching what you wish you wouldn’t. “How will it all end?” Detective Bowden asks Ramirez. “They all die”, he responds. “That’s all?” comes the question. It would be yours as well. It was mine. There has to be a remedy. Ramirez, a curious choice for the all-knowing, tells there’s hope only when people stop pretending and see what’s right in front of their eyes. Something that this movie never did, nor intended to. It could’ve been what it could’ve been. It never considered the option.
‘Devil’ is a bad Satan-flick. As a disaster-movie, it’s terribly underfed. It’s shot in a low-fi camera and it’s set in real-time, tying an ‘I want to fly’ sort of story to the ground. It’s neither Shyamalan, nor Dowdle. It hovers in between, lost. Talk about misshapen demons.