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‘Devil’ gets rave review

By Staff | Sep 30, 2010

Utilizing the subtle “up” and “down” movements of an elevator, M. Night Shyamalan (“Sixth Sense”) turns a stuck “express” car into a microcosm representing humanity’s struggles of good versus evil. Shyamalan penned the screenplay for “Devil,” while its director, John Erick Dowdle, combines the claustrophobic tensions of “Quarantine” with an “And Then There Were None” body count.

Unlike many supernatural ventures, “how” does not become an obstacle. Director Dowdle stirs immediate interest by spreading opening credits in front of an upside down skyline through a soaring and drifting camera swiftly taking a plunge down a shaft and into the lobby of the structure. Against that unsettling backdrop, narration sets the roots for screeching “soul” synchronicity or “an ole wives tale.”

It also quotes the following Biblical passage: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Two women and three men enter a skyscraper elevator; all host great and greater mostly white-collar (“a thief, liar and thug…”) sins on their respective conscience. Once the express elevator stalls between floors, the characters dangle in a symbolic purgatory-awaiting rescue.

The latter grows more complicated as an express elevator does not have an opening on every floor. The in-house mechanic has a challenge — the usual re-sets and back up devices won’t move the elevator car.

Gradually, those trapped become anxious, nervous and paranoid.

“It feels like something bit me,” one woman says, which eventually leads to allegations of inappropriate touching followed by a newly dead passenger after each electrical black out.

Employing frantic camera movements, the five characters’ meltdowns accent that seldom chosen cinematic tool — the long fade out to a dark screen — that escalates the unexplainable. You know neither what character will be next nor how they will perish. And, in the dark, it’s your imagination versus your neighbor’s as to the pending slaughter.

“Devil” wisely incorporates active controlled “panic” from those watching on the security camera. A very religious guard warns of an image and a fable, which dabs sweat on the forehead and a little on the palms.

Anyone anticipating a supernatural mystery can hang it up now. Placing Satan’s spirit in the car opens the doors for fire and brimstone vengeance from an entity whose ‘powers’ are limitless. No suspension of disbelief quandaries when the devil incarnate has possessed a trapped victim for soul collection to the fiery, bottomless pit.

On a secondary behavioral level, those voyeurs observing the elevator’s interior have one or more moral dilemmas with which they have been tossing and turning. It’s a device that works excellently for surveillance and for dumping more analogies to good versus evil.

Some critics have expressed disappointment with “Devil,” but I’m giving it a stomach and mind churning double thumbs up for the reworking of creepy Satanic soul collection in the tight, trapped confines of a dangling express elevator.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com