2010 cannot be described as a good year for M. Night Shyamalan. The negative reaction to "The Last Airbender" was immediate and scathing. It went so far as to become an act of revisionist history with some critics dissecting his entire career and declaring it retroactively over after the phenomenal success of "The Sixth Sense". So, I just had to check out "Devil", released a mere three months after "The Last Airbender", and thanks to some ITunes gift cards from Christmas, I could do so without risking my own money.
"Devil" opens with a suicide and details the story of five people trapped in a high rise elevator in downtown Philadelphia, who experience events that can only be explained by the supernatural. The "devil" aspect comes into play through a guard in the building whose mother puts Brothers Grim to shame. She told him bedtime stories as a child about the devil taking human form to trap, torture and kill those who will eventually end up in his(or her?) domain anyway. It's a bit of a locked room mystery with a police detective working the suicide who tries to decipher what is happening in the elevator via security cameras.
I'll start with my likes which are mostly about mood. The camera work, including opening credits over the upside down city, is excellent with sweeps and mirror perspective shots that keep the viewer constantly askew. The music, also key to the mood, is heavy handed enough to cue an edge or your seat tension throughout. I didn't have any problem with the acting but the characters are all like those found in a hour long Twilight Zone type show. You know, played by vaguely familiar actors and fleshed out just enough to make us pay attention for an hour minus commercials.
My dislikes? The ending does have a few "twists" people expect from Shyamalan's work but they are fairly tepid. The narrator is a mildly annoying piece of work also. His "my mama told me" declarations about the devil are at best awkward exposition and at worst silly. Why insert an otherwise rational character who earnestly expects everyone to shake their heads and say "yep it's the Devil, that's for sure"?
Verdict? The reports of M. Knight Shyamalan's career suicide are premature and he will make more movies to love or hate I'm sure. "Devil" probably would have been viewed as C grade work but a minor hiccup if it had not come out after "The Last Airbender".