[Movie Review] Devil

My mother's story would always begin the same way, with a suicide paving the way for the Devil's arrival. And it would always end with the deaths of all those trapped.

I remember seeing the trailer for Devil in the theater. I'm not sure what movie I was there to watch, but I recall being intrigued by the preview. It looked fascinatingly creepy--definitely like something I'd want to see.

And then M. Knight Shyamalan's name flashed across the screen.

Goodbye, interesting premise; hello, blatant ego-stroking and lame twist endings.

But I eventually saw the movie anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised. This is a case of don't judge a book by its... author? In spite of Shyamalan's involvement, Devil's not a bad horror movie.

The first thing to know about Devil is that it's a very Catholic movie. When they called it Devil, they weren't kidding around; while much of the plot is focused on getting the trapped characters out of the elevator, towards the end it becomes obvious that the movie is really about finding out which of the five is literally the devil. The movie even ends with a statement to the effect of "If the Devil exists, then so does God," which made my eyes nearly roll out of my head at its sheer WTF and blatant assumption that its audience is theistic. So non-Catholics and atheists/agnostics/antitheists might find these themes troublesome and want to give the movie a pass; me, I found the rest of the movie enjoyable enough to let it slide just this once.

The second thing to know about the movie is that there are some incredibly Narmy lines and scenes. Beyond a rather painful "your mom" joke--which are never funny, by the way--there's a particular scene in which the Catholic Latino character says the following:
When [the devil] is near, everything goes wrong. Toast falls jelly side down, children hit [their heads on] tables, and people get hurt.
And he does this after flipping a piece of jellied toast in the air and declaring that the fact that the jelly landed on the floor is absolute proof of the devil's presence in the building. It is the absolute funniest thing I've ever seen in a movie, and its hilarity only increased when I realize that the actor playing the character was Guillermo on Moonlight.

So when you watch these, be prepared for some silly shit, including (for some people) the "TURN ON THE LIGHTS" scream found in the trailer; personally, I found that to be a surprisingly reasonable reaction for a highly stressed-out and frightened female character in a horror movie to have, especially when compared to all the ridiculous high-pitched squealing, tripping, and squirming that goes on in most films... but that's just me.

The opening credits, on the other hand, are pretty awesome.

The third and final thing you need to know about this movie is that they aren't really interested in naunced characters here. Since the screenwriters were busy with their religious themes, they let their character's personalities fall to the wayside, so we have some extremely common stereotypes inside and outside the elevator.

  • Hollywood Atheist Cop Guy, the main character who is a recovering alcoholic after nearly drinking himself to his grave upon the hit-and-run deaths of his wife and son. He gets into a bit of a confrontation with the Catholic character so that the filmmakers have an opportunity to invoke Hollywood's typical "atheists are just jaded Christians" misconception. Played by Chris Messina.
  • Catholic Guillermo, the supporting character who keeps bringing up the idea that one of the people in the elevator just might be the devil. (His character in the film is named Ramirez, but... Guillermo is such a better character! *grumbles about how Moonlight got cancelled just as it was finding its footing*) Played by Jacob Vargas.
  • Obnoxious Creepy Weirdo, one of the five people trapped in the elevator and the first to become a suspect. Played by Geoffrey Arend.
  • Grumpy Old Lady, a grumpy old lady who is trapped in the elevator and says grumpy things. Played by Jenny O'Hara.
  • Scary Black Man, a guard who is trapped in the elevator and spends a good amount of his time being friendly, helpful, and flirty, all while still being pigeonholed into the most common stereotype for black characters when he eventually becomes the film's lead suspect. Played by Bokeem Woodbine.
  • Rich Bitch, an apparently well-off, clearly rather entitled woman trapped in the elevator and the first person to be attacked. Played by Bojana Novakovic.
  • Guy from Prometheus Who Kind of Looks Like Bane, the fifth and final person who is trapped in the elevator and doesn't have much of a backstory until the very end of the movie. Played Logan Marshall-Green from Prometheus.
Clearly, these aren't the most groundbreaking characters, and I'm sure the reliance on gender and ethno-racial stereotypes will strike some viewers as offensive, insensitive, or just plain lazy. And yet I still liked the movie.

Maybe it's because I was surprised by who the villain turned out to be. Maybe it's because that toast story was just too damned hilarious to hate. Maybe I just like watching an elevator full of obnoxious stereotypes get killed one by one? (...that came out wrong, I think.)

The only thing I will say that did kind of piss me off about the movie is that there's a bit of a subtle shaming of suicide throughout the film. It might just be me--suicide and the modern stigma against its victims is an extremely sensitive subject for me--but Cop Guy's story about how he pulled himself out of self-destruction and implied suicidal depression by "accepting responsibility" and the opening scene about a person's suicide opening up some kind of window of opportunity for the devil to slaughter a bunch of morons struck me as a bit... unfortunate.

Still, I suppose I can let it slide. It probably wasn't an intentional message on the part of the filmmakers, and, as with the Catholic themes mentioned above, there's enough to enjoy in Devil for me to pardon the less enjoyable aspects. All in all, I'd recommend Devil for anyone looking for something to watch on Halloween; it's not going to erase anyone's disdain for Shyamalan movies, but it should be a reasonably amusing way to spend an hour or two of your time.

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