By Adam Donato
Devil was supposed to be the first of a trilogy of stories based on supernatural happenings in a modern urban society titled “The Night Chronicles”. The sequels never happened and we are left with just the one: a movie about five people who are trapped in an elevator and one of them is the devil. The film easily outgrossed its $10 million dollar budget in the first weekend and went on to make $60 million at the box office. The critical reception was mixed, which for Shyamalan at the time was a good thing. He did not direct Devil as he was making the most infamous blockbuster of all time, The Last Airbender. Oh, what a year…
As the title states, this movie is being judged like a nothing horror movie dropped in the middle of September. Compared to The Godfather, Devil is terrible. As far as low-budget horror films go, this movie is a crowd-pleasing delight. It’s the whole package. You will be scared, you will laugh, and by the end, you may feel a bit emotional. The best horror movies have something that most others don’t even bother attempting, a character arc. Devil has two.
Trapping the main characters in an elevator is a great way to force the movie to stay short and character-driven. With an eighty-minute runtime, Devil spends half of its time forcing the trapped citizens to interact and reveal interesting details about themselves. The other half of the movie follows a depressed, no-nonsense detective as he tries to get them out alive. This balance helps to keep the movie feeling fresh, without compromising either storyline.
The cinematography is worth a mention as Devil’s is Tak Fujimoto. The same guy who did the cinematography for Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and Signs (the last two being directed by Shyamalan), is doing a cheesy, low budget horror movie. His choices are brilliant, considering the movie he is making. The close-up, Dutch angle shots while in the elevator help to convey the claustrophobic paranoia of the scenario. Also, say what you want about how ridiculous the opening and closing shots of this movie are, but it works. Yes, it’s cute having the movie being bookended by flipped shots of the Philadelphia skyline. Wait a minute, Philadelphia? Isn’t that where all of Shyamalan’s movies take place? That’s cute.
Speaking of cute, the completions of the two character arcs in the film. The shady male in the elevator, who ends up being the final survivor, confesses his sin of committing a hit and run on a mother and her son. As it turns out, that mother and son were the families of the detective of the elevator case. The detective volunteers to take the lone survivor in and, on their ride, he reveals that his family was the victim of a said hit and run. Forgiveness is given as the narrator says “if the Devil is real, then God must be real, too.” Both arcs come to completion as they come together. The film, which is, for all intents and purposes, just a cheesy horror movie, to end on such a profound and optimistic note is wildly impressive and unprecedented in today’s general horror fare.
The movie is cheesy to the max. The entire cast is full of extreme stereotypes and they are all connected in the most outrageous fashion. The biggest indication of cheesiness in the movie, despite the villain being the actual Devil, is the “jelly side down” scene. One of the building’s security guards claims that there is something supernatural going down in the elevator as he sees an evil face in the elevator security footage. He goes on to test this theory for the skeptical detective by throwing a piece of jellied toast in the air. When it lands jelly side down, he loses it and actively starts praying as this is a sign of the Devil for bad things to happen when he is around. Gold.
Part of the fun of the movie is betting on who in the elevator is the Devil. At the end of the movie, it is revealed to be the old woman. This is an odd twist as the second person to be killed is the old woman who was hung with the elevator chords. Is it possible that the Devil possessed multiple people in the elevator throughout the movie? Then again, it’s hilarious if the Devil pretended to be an old woman, and on her way to kill some people decided to steal a random person’s wallet. The movie does a good job of spreading the evidence amongst all the suspects in the elevator as each person gets a turn on the hot seat.
The horror genre is not given as much credit as it should because the market is saturated by low-budget, non-scary crap. A lot of horror movies don’t work on any level, so to see one that not only succeeds as a horror, but also as a comedy with characters who arc. This isn’t high brow material, but it knows exactly what it is. Devil is unabashedly itself and for what it is, it’s a masterpiece. Not only that, it deserves to be brought up in the conversation for the most underrated horror movie of all time.
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