The new movie Devil, marketed as M. Night Shyamalan's Devil, was neither written nor directed by the great-turned-awful director, but it may as well have been. A laugh-inducing, horribly written and sadly directed horror-thriller, Devil is about as fun to watch as it is to listen to elevator music.
Devil, based on a story premise by Shyamalan (and co-produced by him), is about five unfortunate souls who find themselves trapped on an elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper. As security, the police and firefighters attempt to reach them, the stranded strangers quickly realize that one of them is not who he or she appears to be. They die one by one and it becomes increasingly clear that a supernatural force is at work.
Devil starts off poorly and devolves from there as the audience is subjected to a cheesy narrative about Satan that sets the stage for what's to come. Regardless of how much involvement Shyamalan had in the production of the movie, Devil looks and feels like his other recent movies. In other words, it looks and feels terrible.
The screenplay, by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, but also Hard Candy), is absurdly bad. The dialogue is cringe-inducing and the characters so stereotypically annoying it's amazing the actors could even keep a straight face. The actors' performances range from stale to painful and no one involved elevates the material in any way.
For a movie where most of the action is set in a space as large as a small cubicle, that's not good. A movie like this needs great characters and acting to succeed. It has neither. As is soon revealed, each character has a dark past, but neither Nelson nor director John Erick Dowdle make any attempt to make them interesting or likable. There's not a single character I cared whether they lived or died.
Despite its deadly flaws, the movie has two saving graces.
One, the story is intriguing enough that there is some motivation to see how it ends. The ending is wildly disappointing, but leading up to that point I never was inclined to actually walk out of the theater. At least I didn't seriously entertain it. Again, the premise of Devil is decent; it's just executed very poorly.
Two, the movie is so bad it's entertaining. Three young guys sitting right in front of me were freaked out of their minds, even though Devil isn't scary in the least, and one practically jumped into the lap of his buddy at one point. This happening while the rest of the audience is laughing at how bad the movie is.
Devil had some promise at some phase of its development - between the time Shyamalan thought of it one night and actually considered turning it into a movie - but the final product is a complete disaster. It's laughably bad, not at all scary and one of the worst acted movies of the year. Devil is, as a result, one of the worst movies of 2010.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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