Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenplay: Brian Nelson
Starring: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend
Synopsis is here
To say that M Night Shyamalan's recent releases have not been critical darlings is a tiny bit of an understatement. Have a quick root around Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic or IMDB and you will see The Last Airbender obtaining some of the worst reviews of not only of the year, of the man's whole career. It's getting tough for the man who was in consideration to become the so-called "next Spielberg". Things have gotten so awkward that Universal removed the filmmakers name off his producer credited film; Devil. To make matter worse, Devil has not had advance screenings to critics. The interesting thing I find about this is, that while many yell that critics mean nothing to anyone, they obviously have enough of a voice to make it seem to a studio that it's squeaky bum time.
I don't see why the studio were so worried, as it seems that M Night has finally done what many have hoped for: Come up with the idea and let other people set about the writing and directing of it. Devil has Shyamalan well ingrained into it's DNA, however by placing someone in those seats that M Night loves keeping warm, what we get is a neat, nicely paced morality tale which while flawed, still manages to be an enjoyable waste of 80 minutes.
It's important to note the films running time as it is the trimming of the fat that has been sorely missing from M Night's films. Features like The Village and The Happening, spent too much time padding out their thin narrative with portentous posturing. Constantly pretending that they were better than their twilight zone plots. Devil wastes no time in trying to raise it's head above it's B movie trappings and is all the better for it. The film is well paced and feels more focused on it's characters and the situation at hand. It helps that the writer (Brian Nelson) and Director (John Erick Dowdle) are known more for their genre filmmaking more than anything. It helps here, with the two managing to create a sufficient amount of tension and unease throughout.
This is not to say that the film hasn't got it's flaws. There is no need for the films naive narration, which like The Last Airbender, points out the obvious to the audience despite the fact that the viewers can clearly see what's happening/about to happen. Also, one of the things that M Night can do well is make sure that the actors have a certain amount of restraint in their acting. I understand that what we have is B-movie, genre territory, but by not reigning in some of the performances, the acting suffers slightly.
However with this said it is in no way bad enough to make me dislike the film in it's entirety. Like Signs, the films main theme is faith and how we respond to it in the modern world. The film handles this well and like signs, it's executed in a way that helped me forgive some of the flaws I had with the film, although someone could have turned down the bombastic musical cues.
Devil ran at a tight pace, had enough mystery to have me doubt the outcome (although I did stick to my original guess and was correct.) and ending on a wonderfully satisfying and hopeful note that really threw me. There's some interesting visuals (for a film mostly set in a lift) and all in all I left the cinema relatively happy. Then I stuck my headphones in and forgot about it. That's the problem with junk food cinema, it never lasts.