Admittedly, it’s not exactly high praise to call Devil the best Shyamalan movie in years, being that even mediocre would look a whole lot better than The Happening, or The Last Airbender, or The Village, or Lady in the Water. But it’s true nonetheless, Devil, the first installment of The Night Chronicles, was a surprisingly well-played and engaging thriller that was a lot less on the horror and a lot more on the thrill than expected.
Devil puts five people in one of the smallest rooms on earth–an elevator–suspended about twenty-one stories off the ground and then hands them a doozy of a locked-room mystery: which one of them is actually Satan in a meat suit? And as the movie carries on, and we discover that most every attempt to pre-empt the goings-on in the elevator is somehow precluded by bizarre accidents, we find out one crucial truth might well save everybody: confession is good for the soul.
To tell you much more than this about the plot would sadly give it away, but it’s safe to tell you that if you don’t let Shyamalan direct, or do a whole lot to the script (he’s credited with the story, but Brian Nelson did the script and John Erick Dowdle of Quarantine fame handled the direction), or do much more than sit in the big chair, shut up and sign checks (he’s got a producer credit), he really can’t botch very much.
And the end result brings back some of the old “so what’s happening next?” we got with The Sixth Sense, and, better yet, the famed Shyamalan Twist. We hadn’t gotten much of a twist out of him since back around The Village, and they were getting steadily weaker, but this time the twist was a bit more palpable. In fact, the script even references it a bit, which is a nifty small Take That to his own earlier work.
I liked Devil, I really did–I hadn’t had this much fun with a small-scale mystery with huge stakes in a while, comparing it against Shyamalan’s whole body of work is like comparing the Hope Diamond to a photo of same, and the ending gives a nice cathartic feel as we get a little morality play on the redeeming qualities of faith. It felt good, and that goes a long way.
Oh, sure, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses here–implausibility rules the day here, and trying to write for the devil is a whole lot of “well, PROVE he wouldn’t act like that!”–but there’s still some good suspense and the environment is sufficiently claustrophobic and creepy to make for a few good scares.
Thus, the Screenhead Ten Scale hands a feel-good thriller with horror elements a nine out of ten for doing a great job with what it had, and for giving M. Night Shyamalan’s flagging career a much needed shot in the arm.