Tuesday, 28 September 2010


'From an early age, my mother always told me about the devil...' OK that quote's paraphrased somewhat but, as a piece of opening narration, it tells you one thing absolute: we're in ponderous, patronising M. Night Shyamalan territory, where brows are never furrowed enough, and where the brood is put in brooding. Yes, it's Devil, his new film as co-writer and producer but, crucially, not as director. What it is, is the first from his Night Chronicles production label, proposing supernatural events in banal, contemporary scenarios.

It starts with a flamboyant credits sequence that, oddly, is the most memorable thing in the film (bar the aforementioned 'Book at Bedtime' sanctimony). Gliding across an expense of water, we track upwards to view the Philadelphia cityscape upended, the skyscrapers all pointing downwards like the swords of Damocles. Accompanied by Fernando Velazquez's thunderingly Herrmannesque score, it's a bracingly off-kilter way to begin, but perhaps inevitably, everything that follows fails to scale such unpredictable heights. Instead, it's content to cook up a moderately fiery premise: five strangers, trapped in a lift, who find that Satan is among them.

Of course, it's preceded in typically eccentric Shyamalan fashion by a poor sap leaping off the towerblock in which the people find themselves stuck. And of course, only Chris Messina's troubled cop (he lost his wife and child in a car accident, you see) can save them. Meanwhile, within 5 seconds of the monitor going a bit fuzzy, Jacob Vargas' god-fearing security guard (he of the dreaded narration) is raving fire and brimstone about the presence of Lucifer. God forbid he experience the iffy Freeview TV service in the UK.

In the end, it's Shyamalan's absence behind the camera that saves Devil from being a complete disaster. For all the turgid, bombastic qualities inherent in Mr Sixth Sense's script (co-written with Hard Candy's Brian Nelson), helmer John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) just about manages to keep it afloat as a competent Friday night chiller, bringing a degree of visual economy to the table and playing efficiently (if not spectacularly) on widespread fears.

He largely keeps Shyamalan's irritating emphasis on wide-eyed symbolism in-check, but nevertheless has to compete with his compadre's screenplay that threatens to pull it into ever more convoluted territory (Is it a morality tale? Has everyone in the lift been gathered for a reason? Are the people in the back getting it?) Nevertheless it's brisk at 80 minutes, there are some witty jokes early on when the real threat appears to be from the omnipotent muzak, and the performances are solid, even when the tone is haphazard. While it's not exactly heaven-sent, Devil is far from hellish.

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