Devil (2010) Review
Devil was directed by John Erick Dowdle (No Escape, As Above, So Below), written by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) and M. Night Shyamalan (Knock at the Cabin, Glass), and stars Chris Messina (She Dies Tomorrow, Argo), Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade, Prometheus), Bojana Novakovic (The Hallow, Beyond Skyline), Bokeem Woodbine (Halo, Overlord), Jenny O’Hara (Wishmaster, Mystic River), Geoffrey Arend (Killing Zelda Sparks, 500 Days of Summer), Jacob Vargas (Satanic Hispanics, The 33) and Matt Craven (Awakening the Zodiac, Assault on Precinct 13) It’s about a group of people in an elevator trying to find the devil amongst them before it picks them off.
The Plot: Dowdle does a lot with what could easily be clipped and become a little, presenting a unique look at guilt and forgiveness in a short time, wrapping it up in a tight package. Detective Bowden (Messina) is called to investigate a scene where a person who died of sudden impact has strayed from the site, tracing the jump to a tall building. In that same building, a mechanic (Marshall-Green), a young woman (Novakovic), a guard (Woodbine), an old woman (O’Hara), and a salesman (Arend) fill an elevator that promptly gets stuck.
No, really, this movie wastes no time. While investigating, Bowden meets with staff members Lustig (Craven) and Ramirez (Vargas), who sees that things aren’t right. After one of them is battered, it’s up to Bowden to get everyone out before the devil among them strikes.
The Characters: While no real arcs are given to those in the elevator, there are enough small touches provided by the characters’ actions to create a distinction between them. Bowden is a recovering alcoholic trying to get back on track after his family was killed by getting sober and interacting with people again. He’s lost his faith, not helped by superstitious Ramirez who finds a face in the security footage of the elevator.
The mechanic is a no-nonsense kinda guy, getting down to business and answering questions as soon as possible while doing his best to protect himself and the others. The young woman is a bit stuck up and seemingly playing the victim but it isn’t the case. The guard is a temperamental temp with a fear of tight spaces, but still does what he can to help in a dire situation. The old woman is just bitter, and the salesman is sarcastic and a clear weasel. Performances are all solid here, with everyone showing emotion and personality where needed.
The Mystery: Devil sets itself apart in that it doesn’t confine (get it… because the elev- oh you get it) itself to any one particular genre but excels in most of what it sets out to accomplish. The mystery is the most applicable, though, and thanks to ever-shifting emphasis it’s fairly difficult to put blame squarely on one character.
New discoveries in the shaft and surrounding areas are able to cast reasonable doubt on everyone, with the guard having a few violent encounters in his past, as does the mechanic, the salesman had a bad bout with the BBB that burned a lot of people, and the young woman does a lot of posturing and tries to slip her way through security on multiple occasions.
Power dynamics shift slowly but have a big impact when characters are either cleared of suspicion or killed entirely. While a person with a more trained eye for mystery/thrillers may have an easier time discerning the imposter, it’s still a well-devised whodunnit.
The Technics: Like the best claustrophobically inclined movies, Devil is helped along with nearly perfect pacing. Nelson and Shyamalan don’t string events along for too long and allow the audience to put pieces together faster than intended, but they don’t breeze past details in order to be cheap with the mystery. It’s taut, and although there are some questionable aspects of the writing such as an over-the-top scene involving Ramirez and a belated character introduction.
Devil sustains interest for the whole runtime. Also of note is the fantastic camerawork that dials up the tension and puts the already limited location under a microscope. A couple of false scares, a cliche or two, and some bad compositing keep the movie from greatness.
While there’s never a doubt surrounding the supernatural element thanks to a heavy-handed poster and symbolism, Devil is never dull and provides enough red herrings and gripping scenes to be a very, very good (and underrated) mystery/thriller.