The first film from a series of stories known as the Night Chronicles see’s M Night Shyamalan actually write something credible and interesting after a run of flawed films. Thankfully he does not direct as I feel his skills behind the camera are now very questionable indeed, but the story he has written here is one that will engage and terrify in equal measure. The plot could not be simpler, five strangers trapped in a lift with a killer on the lose who just may be the Devil himself. It’s like Cube, meets Towering Inferno with a touch of Angel Heart thrown in for good measure.
We learn dark times are ahead as Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) investigates a possible suicide outside a large building. It would seem some poor sod either jumped to his death, or may have been pushed. Things don’t quite add up, and the discovery of a broken window has the detective and his partner believing this may not be suicide. Meanwhile, in the same building, five complete strangers have entered a lift. We have the new temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), an old lady (Jenny O’Hara), a mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arrend), a quiet man, and a young sexy woman (Bojana Novakovic). None have met before and all are about to go through one terrifying ordeal. The lift stops working, the guys in charge of the TV monitors can see what’s going on, the people in the lift can hear their instructions, but the monitor guys cannot hear them. Added to the problem, the mechanic who needs to fix the lift has found the issue to be more trouble than he thought and it will take longer than expected to fix. One of the guys in charge of monitoring the CCTV is called Ramirez, and after seeing what he believes is the face of the Devil flicker on the monitor showing the lift, he begins to babble some religious stuff about how certain events can lead up to the Devil appearing and punishing certain individuals. He proves his theory to the two detectives who have now joined them by throwing a piece of bread up in the air, landing jam side down, this is a bad omen based on his Spanish religious routes.
The detectives are in the building investigating the suicide/murder and get involved with what is happening in the lift. The strangers are becoming nervous, and every now and then the lights go out in the lift and a powerful force begins attacking them, and eventually people start to die. The build up is truly immense, mysterious and damn well involving. Shyamalan really has done himself proud here with a superb and simple story with incredibly strong supernatural undertones, great characters and well written scares. The true driving force behind Devil’s greatness though is its director John Erick Dowdle, probably best known for the rather impressive remake of (Rec) Quarantine. Dowdle builds a truly intense atmosphere out of a very simple idea, but adds a real energy to it, a real sense of crazy things happening. It has an excitement level and ferociousness that you may find at a big Saturday night boxing match. It really feels like something is happening, and you end up drawn in to the proceedings without even noticing. Suddenly you find yourself routing for characters, wanting to know who they really are, and if they can really be trusted. At times you are almost IN the lift with them, others you feel like you actually are in the CCTV room watching the unfortunates, it’s that engaging.
The opening credits are superb, and really show the director’s skill and intentions to create a world of chaos and paranoia. We see the city where it all happens, but in an uncomfortable and nauseating stroke of Gaspar Noe type genius, the damn city is upside down! You really have to see it to believe it as the camera pans in and out of streets, worms its way round buildings and really makes you feel quite concerned. A great start and a superb way to get your nerves on edge! Brilliant imagery and sudden loud bursts of dark and disturbing music really build up something special. The director seems to know exactly what he’s doing and how he intends to do it. A short running time of less than 90 minutes means there no time to mess about and we get right down to the strangers in the lift. Likeable and believable characters, but all with a story to tell, you quickly feel like you know them, which makes what follows harder and more unsettling to watch.
The detectives, the CCTV guys and the mechanic are all superbly played as well, but all they can really do is watch in horror as events unfold in the lift. The detective does his best to get to know who’s who and do background searches on all involved, and the way his investigations play out are timed just right, never rushed and not drawn out. Nothing about this film outstays its welcome. The image of what Ramirez believes is the face of the Devil disturbs, and having the CCTV paused on the image gets you ready for a nerve tingling descent as things start to get worse. The lights go out in the lift and all you can here is some violent pushing and shoving and a girl screaming. The lights come on and our young attractive girl has been bitten. This is the start of some really nasty events.
The people in the lift don’t know who to blame and who is safe and everyone starts to suspect the next. Claustrophobia sets in and it’s now that the cast of strangers really shine in delivering their characters. Reminiscent of Cube, Bokeem Woodbine (the security guard) starts to freak out as he doesn’t like enclosed spaces. His performance is exceptional, edgy and very very unsettling. The look in his eyes, you just do not know what he will do next. In fact, all the characters give off this impression at some point, you never know who to trust. Shyamalan has written his characters so well, and the director has delivered the story with class and complete dedication to the story. As the lights go out again and again in the lift, things become more and more horrific. It plays out perfectly. Even when you think you know where the film is going, it throws up another twist, or another out of the ordinary event that shocks and disturbs. Even a girlfriend to one of the people in the lift arriving at the scene feels like a nightmare.
Devil is cleverly written, and expertly directed and the cast give it their all. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to like this, but I can happily say that I did. In fact, i thoroughly enjoyed it, and loved its guts and sheer fascination with all things out of the ordinary. Devil is one of those rare horrors where you hang on every word, where the less is more approach works in its favour. It’s one of those horrors with a cast you actually care about, and a story that holds your attention from beginning to end. It has scares, it has emotions and it has incredible atmosphere. It’s unnerving and satisfying, it is a horror like no other I have seen this year, and it is a horror with intelligence. It has style, deep substance and best of all heart. It wants you to think about it, it wants you to get involved, be scared and also be fascinated and it pulls it off. Devil is a real horror playing on the most basic of elements, fear and it delivers that fear in a way that’s unique, thought provoking and brilliant. Great stuff and I can happily admit to being very very excited to see what the next chapter of the Night Chronicles will bring.