What “Devil” primarily has going for it is a creepy, claustrophobic sense of uncertainty during the first half. What it does not have is a real sense of urgency or motivation behind what it is trying to do. Like other M. Night Shyamalan (this film’s producer) associated works, this film plays out like a feature-length version of a “Twilight Zone” episode in that it builds its tension and suspense until the very end at which point the tension snaps in a big way. However, about halfway through, it becomes apparent what the film is trying to do. It is coincidentally around this point that I started not to care about what might happen.
Shyamalan seems to be receiving the brunt of the film’s lukewarm criticism. Despite the theatrical trailer clearly stating “FROM THE MIND OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN” (followed by a unanimous sigh and/or groan from the audience), he is only credited as producer and responsible for coming up with the concept. The screenplay isn’t even his own creation but is instead that of Brian Nelson, who is credited for writing the psychological thriller “Hard Candy” and the vampire flick “30 Days of Night,” along with select episodes of several television series. As far as I can tell, this guy deserves more blame than Shyamalan, because the idea itself could have probably been something much more extraordinary than it turned out to be.
Giving the impression of an earlier, dialogue-driven Shyamalan outing such as “The Sixth Sense” or my personal favorite “Signs,” it lacks the grounded-in-reality approach to paranormal occurrences that made those films so enthralling; it felt like the very same thing could be happening somewhere on this earth. “Devil” simply feels a hair too goofy and far-fetched to take seriously.
Just after a suicide is committed from the thirty-somethingth story of a skyscraper, strange things begin to go down within one of the building’s elevators. Occupied by five different people, the elevator gets jammed for seemingly no apparent reason. Elevator security personnel try to work on the problem, but to no avail. As more time passes, the more the inhabitants are driven to the brink of insanity by one another. Things are shaken up even more when they realize that they are being killed off one by one from some unidentifiable force.
One of elevator security named Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) claims it to be the Devil in human form. The order of events add up according to the stories his mother told him as a child about the devil: starting with a suicide, ending with the Devil arriving on earth to exterminate various strangers for their transgressions. It must be mentioned here that all five of the passengers inside the elevator all have shifty pasts, whether they be accredited to greed, violence or dishonesty. It is the perfect smorgasbord of souls to devour.
Also crowbarred in is what I think a very weak side story about one Detective Bowden (Chris Messina). Working on both the suicide case and the elevator mishap, he is still grieving over the recent death of his wife. She was killed in an auto accident and the other driver was never exposed.
These events all converge into what I consider one of the single worst finales of this year. It is just so ridiculous what everything comes down to. I will not reveal whether or not a Shyamalan twist is thrown into the mix, but I will say that the twist is not only preposterous, but it is predictable (it was for me at least). Not to mention the actual wrap-up is much to clean. I could have gone for at least a little ambiguity or suspicion. Reflecting back on it, you may notice that the whole middle section of the movie is lined with red herrings.
Taking the ending out of the equation, “Devil” still lingers on a stilted script and a collection of not-so-interesting characters. It is not awful, but it could have easily been improved upon. It is more ill fated evidence that Shyamalan has lost the creative spark that initially put him on the map. He strayed from thrillers and tried experimenting this year with “The Last Airbender,” but it turned out to be the worst movie of his career. I just don’t know what he should do now, but I hope he can redeem himself from his current state as a joke in the movie industry.