Blu-Ray Review: Self-Possessed M. Night Shyamalan Fails Again in ‘Devil’

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CHICAGO – M. Night Shyamalan’s career is a morbidly fascinating train wreck. Here’s a man who seduced the mainstream viewing public and film lovers alike with the wonderful psychological drama, “The Sixth Sense,” and the enticing mystery, “Unbreakable.” Both films garnered the director a legion of devoted fans eager to see what material he would tackle next.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s subsequent work has consisted of one disaster after another. After the phony ending of “Signs” came the critically savaged “Village,” which inspired Shyamalan to demonize critics in his even worse follow-up, “Lady in the Water,” where he cast himself as a misunderstood savior (no joke). Then came “The Happening,” a series of knee-jerk gore gags that mankind allegedly “deserved,” probably because they decided to skip “Lady in the Water.” Blu-Ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.0/5.0

After “The Last Airbender” hammered the final nail in the coffin of Shyamalan’s credibility, he’s now decided to give young screenwriters and directors the golden opportunity to film his lousy stories instead. “Devil” is the first installment of “The Night Chronicles,” a three-picture series of films that has provoked derisive laughter nationwide when its name appeared in trailers. It’s difficult to think of a worse way for aspiring filmmakers to launch their career. No matter how well-acted or crisply directed these films may turn out to be, they will most likely be severely marred by the inherently subpar nature of the material. That’s certainly the case with “Devil,” which simply offers more sanctimonious schlock from the limited imagination of its creator. It’s easily the best film Shyamalan has produced in years, which isn’t saying much, considering his last three pictures were among the worst of the decade. “Devil” is competently made, which in some ways makes it drearier than a laughable travesty like “Happening,” where Shyamalan’s writing and direction reached new levels of unintentional camp.

Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green and Geoffrey Arend star in John Erick Dowdle’s Devil.
Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green and Geoffrey Arend star in John Erick Dowdle’s Devil.
Photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Many suspense scenes have taken place in stalled elevators, but “Devil” expands the familiar set-piece to feature length. Five people find themselves trapped on an elevator while the viewer gradually comes to the realization that satanic forces may have led them there. The viewer knows this because Brian Nelson’s script leaves no room for ambiguity.

Devil was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Dec. 21, 2010.
Devil was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Dec. 21, 2010.
Photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

It utilizes the annoying device of a superstitious bystander who spews gobs of exposition explaining the film’s peculiar events. Though the film builds some effective suspense early on, it repeatedly undermines the claustrophobic tension by juxtaposing the action in the elevator with a parallel plot thread about a detective (Chris Messina) investigating the crisis. It’s obvious from the get-go that the detective’s backstory will somehow connect with the unfolding action, leading to a feel-good finale that is thoroughly contrived. Oh, and by the way, the demon-infested elevator is in a building located at 333 Locust Street (insert eye roll here).

The best thing that can be said about “Devil” is that it is tolerable from beginning to end. It’s only at the final fade-out does one begin to regret having sat through the last 80 minutes of flickering lights and foreboding dialogue, only to end up at a conclusion so pat and predictable that it seems to have been recycled from an old “Touched by a Devil” episode. Director John Erick Dowlde is skilled at pacing, but he lacks an original enough vision, opting to rip-off Kubrick’s iconic flash frames from “The Shining,” when the twin apparitions at the end of the hallway transform into their own bloody corpses.

Fernando Velazquez’s repetitive score also sounds as if it was stolen from “Shining,” utilizing the same mournful tones that were heard during Danny’s initial visions. With these “Night Chronicles,” Shyamalan seems to be placing himself in the same league as Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock, when in actuality he’s more like Tyler Perry, but without the fan base.

“Devil” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, Spanish, French and Descriptive Video Service audio tracks, and includes BD-Live features including a pocketBLU app. Four minutes of silly deleted scenes provide introductions to three of the characters, setting up their sinful nature, thus spoiling the twist that their fates are all deserved. The mechanic is caught stealing, the old lady is caught shunning a black woman, and the con man is caught selling a mattress to a lesbian (insert head scratch here). In three featurettes each running under three minutes, Shyamalan reaffirms the film’s oft-stated themes.

He says the story is about “taking responsibility” for every decision made in your life, “both the good and the bad.” Why can’t Shyamalan learn from his own lessons? His monstrous ego has clouded all six of his senses, making him unable to decipher between what made his past work so good and his current work so very, very bad. Like all self-pitying egotists on a spiral toward self-destruction, Shyamalan has blamed the world for his problems. He needs to realize that there’s only one person responsible for the bad reviews and shrinking attendance, and he’s staring at him in the mirror.

‘Devil’ is released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment and stars Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Matt Craven and Jacob Vargas. It was written by Brian Nelson and directed by John Erick Dowdle. It was released on Dec. 21st, 2010. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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