Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Devil – Review

Devil – Review

Oct 3, 2010

reviewed by Skot
directed by John Erick Dowdle, 2010

“If the devil is real, God, also, must be real.”  So says the narrator of Devil, the latest addition to the body of work of M. Night Shyamalan.  Shyamalan is the auteur behind Sixth Sense, The Village, and Signs, among others.  In this case, he neither wrote nor directed the film.  Instead, he came up with the idea and then produced it.  According to reports, Devil is the first in a series of films under the heading of The Night Chronicles.

One of the film’s promotional posters shows the outside of an elevator door.  A red light seeps through the cracks in the door in the shape of an inverted cross.  The image comes with this tagline: “Five strangers trapped.  One of them is not what they seem.” The red upside-down cross along with the title of the movie implies that one of the strangers trapped in the elevator is Old Scratch himself.  That is, indeed, the premise of this film.

Five people, each with something to hide, are stuck together in an elevator.  The mood darkens as the authorities attempt their rescue.  One at a time, the passengers start getting mysteriously injured (and worse) during intermittent light outages.  Building security officers notify the police when it appears a homicide has occurred.  The officers can watch on security cameras but the communication only goes one direction.

It’s a horror film with a whodunit twist.  Others have remarked on the similarity to the 1939 Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were None in which a group of people with guilty pasts are stuck in an isolated location and begin to die one by one.

According to a survey of the Pew Research Center dated September 28, 2010, Americans score poorly on general knowledge about religion.  While people seem to have less and less understanding of religious teaching, some basic religiosity still underlies our culture.  What can we make of it when one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers uses a verse from the New Testament to open his much anticipated latest release?  Before the first credits appear on the screen, the audience is given this passage to ponder: Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Is this just a prop to effective storytelling?  Or it could also be that, in spite of other evidence, Americans remain a God haunted people.

With the verse from 1st Peter in mind, the story follows the notion that the Devil comes into our midst, clothed in the garb of humanity, in order to torment those who have done evil.  Significantly, the one character who is able to see things clearly is the man of faith.  Not the man of science.  Not the man of evidence.  Science and reason can take you a long way, but only so far.  The man of faith was mocked and laughed at for his outdated superstitions.  But when the evidence was missing or misleading, it was the man of faith who could still connect the dots.  Like The Last Exorcism, another recent horror film, Devil also makes the claim that the reality of the devil is proof of the existence of God.  Looking into the darkness becomes an occasion to consider the light.

At the film’s promotion at this year’s ComicCon in San Diego, audience members giggled when the screen said, “From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan.”  Not the intended reaction, I’m sure.  When Sixth Sense came out in 1999, fans and critics were excited by this new creative talent, a stylish horror director who created stories with twists to baffle Alfred Hitchcock.  As Shyamalan wrote and directed new tales, audiences had mixed reactions.  Some appreciated his trademark plot turns and his soft pedal approach to spirituality.  Others complained that he lost his horror edge and still others were just confused.  The question for many people has been whether Devil would mark Shyamalan’s return to chiller cinema or be just another misguided bait-n-switch attempt to appeal to large audiences while appearing to throw the horror fans a bone.

Personally, I have liked most of Shyamalan’s movies.  The exceptions being Lady in the Water and The Happening. Lady was just bad and wrong.  Happening had some cool moments but was dreadfully cast and fizzled miserably by the end.  I loved Unbreakable and have enjoyed all his other major pictures.  So I still get excited when I hear about his upcoming projects.  Devil was a good horror film.  It was contrived, but most things are.  And it was formulaic but I’m still open enough to be surprised by Shyamalan’s formulas.

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