M. Night Shyamalan’s name may not appear as director or screenwriter on Devil, but the dumb Twilight Zone-styled plot, the indigestible religiosity and the obligatory twist(s) are dead giveaways that he was involved in the making of this film (he wrote the story and is listed as a producer). It really doesn’t matter who signed the movie, it fits very snugly into Shyamalan’s oeuvre—except it provides fewer outright laughs than The Happening (2008). The directorial style may be somewhat different, but the tone is the same.
What we mostly have here is a director, John Erick Dowdle, trying to stretch 30-minutes worth of premise (partly pilfered from Agatha Christie) into 80 minutes of movie. The early attempt at style—mostly consisting of creating vertigo by shooting aerial shots of Philadelphia upside down—quickly gives way to padded buildup and the unsurprising horror/drama of discovering that one of five people stuck in an elevator is really the devil. That Lucifer himself is wasting his energies on this foolishness rather than handing it off to some lesser demon is pretty hard to buy, even if you’re willing to suspend disbelief on the other aspects.
The whole thing starts when someone leaps from the 35th floor of a skyscraper, leaving behind a note that, in essence, claims the devil made him do it. This really has very little to do with the story, but it gets the police there—specifically, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina, Julie & Julia)—so it’s functional in that regard. (However, it posits a Prince of Darkness with the Shyamalan mentality of a bad stage manager.) The central story is about Bowden and the five folks—or four folks and one devil—in the elevator. Since one of the movie’s twists requires the five to not be known by name, we’re given the Mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green, Brooklyn’s Finest), the Old Woman (Jenny O’Hara, Extract), the Young Woman (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me to Hell), the Guard (Bokeem Woodbine, Black Dynamite) and the Salesman (Geoffrey Arend, (500) Days of Summer).
What follows is low-wattage mayhem in the elevator—when the lights go off something nasty happens (starting with the devil apparently grabbing the Young Woman’s derrière) that results in one suspect after another meeting his or her demise. Since that’s hardly enough to keep the film going, there’s somewhat more spectacular collateral damage whenever prankster Satan prevents someone from rescuing the passengers. All of this is overseen by biblically bent security monitor Ramirez (Jacob Vargas, Death Race), who realizes what’s really going on—though it goes without saying that no one believes him.
The movie isn’t unwatchable, but it’s certainly a few jolts shy of the scream fest it wants to be. Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language, including sexual references.