Thursday, October 02, 2014

Who Fears the Devil?


There's a party game called "Werewolf" in which three players are werewolves and the rest of the party is villagers. Every "night," the villagers close their eyes and the werewolves "kill" one of them. During the "day" the villagers try to deduce who the werewolves are. If the villagers "kill" all the werewolves before the werewolves get them, they win, otherwise, the werewolves win. It's fun variant of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. I couldn't help but think about this while I was watching Devil (2010, directed by John Erick Dowdle), an unassuming little shocker in which five people are trapped in an elevator and one of them is, well, The Devil. It's a classic game of Werewolf, including the periods of darkness when The Devil takes the next victim.

The plot of the film is outlined in a vaguely folkloric voice-over at the outset: The Devil takes on human form to torment a group of people who have been trapped. It starts with a suicide as a summoning, and darned if that's not how the film starts, with a man hitting the top of a truck after a long fall from a tall office building. The cops investigating the suicide are sucked in when an express elevator in the same building is stopped between floors with five people on board. As they get ever more frantic, "accidents" begin to befall them. The cops are left trying to figure out who the murderer is by delving into the past of all of the people on the elevator, only to discover that all of them are sinners of one variety or another: a thug, a thief, a gold-digger, etc. One of the security guards watching the video feed sees the face of the devil flash on screen during a short blackout, and the whiff of brimstone settles in on the proceedings...


This is an unassuming chamber drama. As a horror movie it's fairly effective, dialing up the classic Aristotelian unities of time and space. Most of the action is confined to the elevator and the security station and the film unfolds in an approximation of real time. It plants the seed of its denouement early enough in the film that you might miss it--this is a film written and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker known for his "twists," and this film obliges his cinematic reputation by providing one. It doesn't even cheat to do this, though it certainly engages in cinematic sleight of hand. The reliance on voice-over to provide the film with its exposition is lazy, though, and redundant given that the film provides an on-camera source for the its folktale. I wish it trusted the audience more. The folktale is a real folktale, by the way. It wasn't invented for the film.

The characters in this film are archetypes rather than well-rounded "real" human beings. Indeed, none of the characters in the elevator is named in the credits even though the film provides them with names in the text of the movie. For the most part, the characters in this film serve the plot rather than vice versa, which is common enough in genre films. What IS uncommon is the way this film ends. Shyamalan's films have always had a vaguely Christian thrust to them, and that's true here. I mean, this is a film about The Devil, and as the film suggests, if The Devil is real, then so too is God. And here, the film gets tripped up with theodicy, because at the end of the film, it becomes clear that the entire sequence of events is intended to bring one single character to a state of grace. It's a bloody-minded process if that's the plan, but grace has often been granted in horror movies and in history over a pile of dead bodies. Still, I can't entirely hate a movie where the key to defeating the monster is forgiveness rather than an iron faith.

In any event, Devil is only an hour and nineteen minutes long. It's a brisk running time, too, that doesn't slow down for much. Whatever its other flaws, it's refreshingly short and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 2

First Time Viewings: 1

Around the Web:

Old friend Tim Brannan gets into the act with The Lost Boys and Vampire Academy over at The Other Side.

Jose at Riding the Nightmare finds his blog infested with Frogs.

Michelle Deidre joins us with the very FIRST horror movie ever made, Georges Méliès's The Haunted Castle from 1896!

Lady Terminator Erika serves up a Blood Feast.

Patreon Logo
I'm trying out Patreon as a means of funding my blogs. They don't have a widget yet, so this link will just have to do. If you like my writing and art and if you'd like to support Krell Laboratories and Christianne's Art and Comics, please come on over and pledge. Thanks.


Timothy S. Brannan said...

This looks pretty cool really. I dig these sorts of movies, but can't get my wife to watch them. Nothing to do with the devil, but the claustrophobia of the elevators.

I'll have to queue it up for next year since I am doing vampire movies this year.

Lady Terminator: Erika Instead said...

I watched The Devil with my niece and then she was scared to ride in elevators. I told her she'd be safe as long as she wasn't a shitty person!

And thanks for the shout-out!