Five people are trapped an elevator. They don't know anything about the circumstances of their confinement or who they are confined with, but the mood is growing ever more mysterious. Oh, and there's a big - but invisible - elephant in the room. Actually, to be more precise, there are two hidden elephants casting a doom and gloom shadow on the entire affair. The first is the escalating concern that one of the five souls in the elevator might actually be the devil hiding in human form. The second, possibly even scarier, elephant is that all of the trailers for 'Devil' sold the film as being from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, a man whose track record of late has been, to put it diplomatically, less than inspiring.
Fortunately all concerned parties can rest assured that Shyamalan's involvement has not hurt 'Devil' one iota. The only negative affect he's had on the film is having potentially dissuaded a number of people from seeing it. And that's a shame because he deserves a healthy amount of credit for having cooked up the idea for a movie that is highly original, remarkably captivating, and, well, just plain cool.
While it was Shyamalan who seeded the idea, it was screenwriter Brian Nelson ('Hard Candy,' '30 Days of Night') that fleshed it out into a feature-length story for fraternal directors John Erick and Drew Dowdle ('Quarantine'). That spread of different roles is actually one of the most unique things about 'Devil'. Sure, it's hardly the first movie to be thought of by one person, written by another and then directed by someone else entirely, but normally when that happens one of the fundamentals ends up being stronger than the others. That's not the case here.
All parties involved have delivered nothing short of their respective A games. Nelson's script is a lean, eerie, efficient bundle of different genres that combine together in a state so fragile that it's very easy to see how less understanding directors could have bungled the unraveling of it all. The Dowdle brothers, however, knew exactly what kind of movie they wanted to make. They've proportioned out the genres in careful servings, piecing the intriguing mystery together at all the right times to maximize audience interest. The best testament one can offer to how harmonious their understanding of Nelson's script and Shyamalan's idea is is that there's no throwaway material to be found.
The quartet have approached this otherwise simple story of five people - played by Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, and Geoffrey Arend - trapped in an elevator with the 'Devil' the same way Native Americans approach the killing of a buffalo. They've turned it completely inside out to deduce how best to use every bit of it. In lesser horror movies of this ilk, the procedural side of investigating what's going on tends to be an exposition chore; here it's nothing of the sort. The cop investigating it all (Chris Messina) is given just as much consideration as the core five whose lives are in jeopardy. Even the high rise's security team (Jacob Vargas and Matt Craven) are enjoyable to be around. Hell, the audience even grows to care about what happens to the building's maintenance man. That kind of sweeping respect for all players great and small isn't just admirable in a horror movie, it's downright rare.
It may be surprising for some to hear considering the trailer has been (understandably) eliciting laughter for months, but there's really not a whole lot to hate about 'Devil'. It may be rated PG-13, but the film constantly teeters on a dark edge that is effectively creepy without having to show too much. That said, had a few instances of the film's more intense moments been backed by even more intense imagery, it certainly wouldn't have hurt the film any.
Playing Monday Morning Quarterback about what could have been is silly, though, considering that the current state of 'Devil' is still a totally satisfying (and, in many ways, cathartic) film. Don't let the Shyamalan snickering sway you from seeing this in theaters. You're bound to see it on DVD or cable down the line and regret that it took you that long to discover how good of a film it actually is.