I can imagine being present for the discussions that led up to this movie, and I can imagine being on board with its creation. A supernatural thriller where five strangers are stuck on an elevator, with the added seasoning of the fact that one of the passengers is the honest to goodness devil. How could that go wrong? Well, watch Devil to find out how.
The whole point of this whole “Night Chronicles” trilogy, of which Devil is the first installment, is to showcase films wherein the supernatural and the urban come together, creating some kind of dissonance between the secular and the spiritual. The problem comes when, at the same time, the film makers are trying to also create a fairy tale, with stock characters being puppeteered through the narrative in order to get you, the viewer, to the ultimate, moral conclusion. Except, in this fabled tale, there’s a half-dozen body count before anyone learns their lesson. Unfortunately, the ones that are left end up being so pious and saved that it hardly feels worth the trouble.
A lot of the decisions that were made during the creation of the film were good ones. The first was in casting lesser-known (if at all known) actors for the parts. It avoids the easy solution of the “Narrowed It Down To The Guy I Recognize” trope. If there had been four nobodys and Robert DeNiro in that elevator, it would have been pretty clear who was playing the devil. But, as I only recognized Logan Marshall-Green, and I couldn’t figure out where from, (turns out he’s the guy who played Ryan’s brother Trey on The O.C.) the mystery remained. The acting may have been spotty at times, but at least the casting didn’t give away the ending.
Speaking of the ending, there’s a problem that comes from the movie letting us know that one of the passengers is the devil. It makes us suspect everyone, so when the ending finally does come, no matter what the outcome, we feel like we had guessed it all along. Aspersions are cast upon everyone while an investigating Detective is trying to make sense of the situation. We know that he’s on the wrong track because he’s ignoring the supernatural, so the only real lead we have is that whoever he suspects is probably not the real culprit. The only one we should be listening to is the irritating Latino security guard who flawlessly predicts the circumstances, because his mother told him stories about the devil in his youth. This security guard character comes with his own set of problems, being a little too conveniently in touch with his religious roots. He talks to everyone who will listen about what’s really going on, and, ends up just getting on everyone’s nerves until the Detective gives in, and admits that there’s probably something supernatural going on. Until then, we share the other characters’ frustrations, wanting so desperately for him to shut up, even though we know that he’s right.
So maybe there is some backdoor cleverness to the movie. In being frustrated with Super-Christian Latino Man, I am a poster child for spiritual rejection. Even when faced with proof of the existence of God/the Devil/Aslan, I don’t want to hear about it, and I am hoping that the Detective, as smarmy and overbearing as he is, finds a secular, Gil Grissom-style reason behind the mystery. When the narrative plays out, and Detective-man has come to terms with the existence of the supernatural, he’s meant to seem enlightened, but to those of us on the heathen side of things, he ends up humbled and neutered.
I suspect that someone with a little more spiritual inclination than me could appreciate the themes of the film more than I did. Maybe it will find more success on the shelves of Sunday School DVD collections, right before Left Behind and McGee And Me. Then again, I don’t remember watching any movies in Sunday School where people were stabbed in the neck.