Although Devil was written but not directed by M. Night Shyamalan his influence is palpable throughout. Just like with Signs and The Village the story centers around a small group of people held in confined surroundings and battling an unknown menace. The difference with previous Shyamalan vehicles is that Devil is cast with only five people who spend the length of the film stuck together in an elevator. And if it weren’t for the other characters on the outside, it would be pretty difficult to sustain an interest in the film.
Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) gets called to a huge skyscraper in Philly after someone jumps out a window. A heavy-handed (and annoyingly stereotyped) Latino voiceover informs us that the Devil often appears in the wake of suicides to wreak havoc among random strangers. We watch said strangers gather in the elevator and things go downhill fast. At first, they argue then they start to die.
The film is well constructed if a little one-dimensional. And although the story is barely complex enough to sustain its eighty minutes running time there’s enough artistry to keep things moderately interesting. If the film were a little smarter it would be a meditation on cinema and the nature of performance. Much of Devil is taken up with the audience watching the Detective watch the other characters on a screen. Sometimes the screen freezes up and stops working and sometimes the elevator’s lights go out—the Devil is at work. But the film’s flimsy excuse for an ending and total lack of metaphysical comment—after it’s spent over an hour pontificating about the Nature of Evil—undermines any wisdom it might have been claiming to produce.
This is Shyamalan territory after all–we’re expecting a twist ending. When it finally comes it’s not much of a surprise and doesn’t add anything to the film. There’s a little coda in which the Detective takes one of the freed elevator passengers to the station in his car and the possibility of a surprise ending is raised. Sadly, Devil takes the easy way out and its parting message is, “If the Devil exists, then God must exist as well.” That line reminded me of another disappointing film from the summer horror slate, The Last Exorcism, in which one character states, “If you believe in God, you have to believe in demons.” Well, no matter what you believe in, it shouldn’t be this movie. Whether or not Shyamalan can pull himself out of a rut of flat, predictable films full of offensively “ethnic” characters will be the real twist.