When I was about twelve, I wrote a short story in which the Devil shows up at some random church and kills everyone present. One of my parents' friends or co-workers read the story and, in the margin, near the end, she wrote the words, "I wonder why?" or something along those lines. I remember reading that little note of hers, realizing that I had absolutely no answer to her question, and essentially scrapped the story.
Devil is a movie that places five strangers on a stalled elevator and then informs us, the audience, that one of these people is the Devil. Yes, that Devil. As in, I kept expecting the line "Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name," to be spoken. It never was. But the filmmakers do mean the actual Devil. So we're off to a rather bad start. The premise is absolutely ridiculous. But it gets worse when we realize that the movie was produced by M. Night Shyamalan and Devil has been tagged as the first of Shyamalan's "Night Chronicles." And he's quite literal about it. After the Night Chronicles splash page, a big number one appears on the screen, either a promise or a threat that there will be more of these to come.
But take heart, the film is actually not as bad as would be completely fair to expect. Is this due to the fact that, rather than writing and directing it himself, Shyamalan simply handed his idea to another group of creators and allowed them to have at it? Maybe. The tone starts off light, actually drawing us in using little examples of weirdness but never relying on overtly religious symbolism. No boiling holy water or priests vomiting locusts. Just a blurry face on a security camera monitor and an easily disturbed Christian (Latino, of course). The five characters trapped inside the elevator are never fully developed, but their backgrounds must necessarily remain mysterious to ensure that we keep suspecting every one of them . . . until they die, one by one. A detective and a pair of security guards are allowed a tiny bit more depth, giving us a few characters to identify with.
In the end, yes, there is a twist. That is no spoiler. Shyamalan was involved, after all. Is the twist Sixth Sense-clever or The Village-stupid? About half way between the two. Not entirely predictable, but far from mind-blowing. Oddly, I stopped caring who the Devil was after about forty-five minutes or so, maybe even earlier. I mean, really, what difference does it make? I was far more interested in knowing exactly why the Devil was doing this at all? Was he looking to corrupt a few good people? This theory is disproved fairly early on. Was he bored, sitting there in Hell? A narrator tells us, bit by bit, what will happen, according to some surely made-up legend, but never why it happens. Which brings me back to my story of some twenty years ago. When I couldn't come up with a proper reason for the Devil to just show up, randomly and, just as randomly, kill off a few people, I dropped the story all together. Should the makers of Devil have done the same? Well, maybe. But let's put it this way, Devil is better than anything tied to the Shyamalan name in at least ten years.