Halfway through the alluring trailer for Universal's September 17th thriller 'Devil' comes the mention of a familiar name: "M. Night Shyamalan." That's the director, of course, behind such suspense thrillers as 'The Sixth Sense' and 'The Village.'

Shyamalan produced and created the story of a handful of people trapped in an elevator who discover that the Devil is hiding amongst their numbers, but the film itself was written by Brian Nelson ('Hard Candy,' '30 Days of Night') and directed by John Erick and Drew Dowdle ('Quarantine'). It looks as though 'Devil' aims to draw from a variety of fears that have transformed many psychological thrillers over the years into surprise hit films.

The label psychological thriller is something that gets tossed around rather broadly these days, but at its core it refers to films that employ a scenario in which characters must use their minds, not their bodies, to survive some manner of life-threatening conflict. To that end, it's not hard to see the psychological elements 'Devil' is out to manipulate. That's not a preemptive knock against the film for being something audiences have seen before (it's safe to say that the "trapped in an elevator with Satan" story is not an overly familiar one), rather it's a testament to how frightening particular set of script elements are that new filmmakers continually find them worth exploring.

Halfway through the alluring trailer for Universal's September 17th thriller 'Devil' comes the mention of a familiar name: "M. Night Shyamalan." That's the director, of course, behind such suspense thrillers as 'The Sixth Sense' and 'The Village.'

Shyamalan produced and created the story of a handful of people trapped in an elevator who discover that the Devil is hiding amongst their numbers, but the film itself was written by Brian Nelson ('Hard Candy,' '30 Days of Night') and directed by John Erick and Drew Dowdle ('Quarantine'). It looks as though 'Devil' aims to draw from a variety of fears that have transformed many psychological thrillers over the years into surprise hit films.

The label psychological thriller is something that gets tossed around rather broadly these days, but at its core it refers to films that employ a scenario in which characters must use their minds, not their bodies, to survive some manner of life-threatening conflict. To that end, it's not hard to see the psychological elements 'Devil' is out to manipulate. That's not a preemptive knock against the film for being something audiences have seen before (it's safe to say that the "trapped in an elevator with Satan" story is not an overly familiar one), rather it's a testament to how frightening particular set of script elements are that new filmmakers continually find them worth exploring.

The most obvious fear at play in 'Devil' is its pervasively claustrophobic setting. There are a variety of thrillers both old ('Dial M for Murder,' 'Rear Window,' 'Wait Until Dark') and recent ('Panic Room,' 'Below,' 'Paranormal Activity') that delight in trapping their casts within a single location, but perhaps its closest cohort is Alfred Hitchcock's 'Lifeboat.' Not only is the size of the eponymous rescue vessel roughly on par with that of an elevator in a business high rise, but both films bank on amplifying the tension within the close quarters by provoking the distrust inherent amongst a group of strangers. In the Dowdle Brother's film, the lift's occupants are trapped with a supernatural wolf in sheep's clothing. A strikingly similar concept is at play in Hitchcock's film, which finds a small group of Allied civilians forced to figure out whether the German aboard their boat is a civilian, as he says he is, or a Nazi officer, as several suspect he may be.

It's that distrust that kicks off the next staple of a good psychological thriller: the cat-and-mouse game. Obviously with the case of 'Devil' and 'Lifeboat' the game is a bit spatially confined, but it certainly doesn't have to be. All that matters is that the chaser and the chased be physical equals, so as to remove the threat of base violence (which is why a slasher that pits a teenage babysitter against a hulking stalker, like 'Halloween,' can hardly be considered a psychological thriller). With the physical threat out of the equation, a filmmaker can focus on pounding on his or her characters (and thus by extension the audience) with pure mental torture.

There are a host of different ways in which psychological trauma can be leveraged, but if it's to be used properly, it needs to involve more than just a brutal decision making process (which is essentially what the 'Saw' franchise boils down to minus the gore). A filmmaker needs to push a character until they begin to doubt their own grip on reality. Remove their perceived sense of control (and by proxy the audience's) and it opens up entire new vistas of horror to explore. That's why films like 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Paranormal Activity' are as frightening as they are. The threat of something lurking deep inside us all, waiting to get out is exponentially more harrowing than an external terror waiting to get in (Brad Anderson's 'Session 9' is a superb example of this particularly unnerving brand of horror).

A few creepy images don't hurt, naturally, but the lasting scars of a psychological thriller tend to follow when a character does finally lose their grip reality. Throw the impulse control-governing id out of balance and anything can happen. It is these resultant mental breaking points, which almost always come toward the end of a psychological thriller and accordingly may not be glimpsed in 'Devil's' trailer, that define not just the characters they happen to, but the film's lasting impression. The break can be tragic and sympathetic (think Brad Pitt in 'Se7en' or Ashley Judd in 'Bug') or completely out of left field ('High Tension'), but either way it represents the pinnacle of mental torture.

Of course, until the film comes out, it's tough to say whether or not 'Devil' successfully combines any of these horror movie tropes, but unless the trailer is wildly off point, it looks like it promises to -- and a promise that ambitious is more admirable than the effort most major horror movies of late exert.