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Rated 3.02 stars
by 287 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Creepy and Clever
by Frank Wilkins

Unfortunately, the name most frequently attached to Devil is that of its producer, M. Night Shyamalan, who got off to a rip-roaring start with the first two films he wrote and directed, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But with each exponentially horrid release since, he’s pretty much alienated what little audience he had left. And that’s a shame because Devil deserves the attention it may never receive.

This film is the first in a promised series of supernatural thrillers from Shyamalan’s newly formed production company, The Night Chronicles. The company website makes it perfectly clear that Shyamalan will not write or direct any of the films, but will instead look to collaboration with inspiring filmmakers to help bring his original stories to life. This is where he needs to be. We can certainly use his imagination, but not in the director’s chair.

Based on an original concept from Shyamalan’s sketchbook, Devil‘s surprisingly clever script was written by Brian Nelson, who hit pay dirt with his Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night, both excellent pieces of work. The film is directed by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Poughkeepsie Tapes), who will unfortunately go mostly overlooked here. But The Night Chronicles, with Shyamalan producing -- not writing or directing -- seems to be headed in the right direction.

Promoted as a claustrophobic supernatural horror film, Devil is about five people trapped in an elevator, one of them a devil who kills the others. While that certainly describes the film’s elegantly simple premise, the experience is actually bigger than that.

There’s also an entertaining “whodunit” aspect to the film, for much of the fun to be had comes from trying to figure out who the killer is before all suspects are eliminated.  A thread involving a clever detective (Chris Messina) -- accompanied by a couple of building security guards (Matt Craven and Jacob Vargas) -- scrambling about to identify and extricate the trapped, gives the feeling of an elaborate police procedural. Throw in some particularly gruesome murders, creepy noises in the dark, plus elevator shaft carnage, and we’re in for a dark little tale of terror. Oh, there’s also the signature twist at the end, but it’s not the overtly gimmicky kind we’ve come to expect from Shyamalan’s hand.

The film is rated PG-13, so nothing is ever over-the-top or extreme. It really doesn’t need to be though, because most of the killing happens when the lights go out in the elevator. Each time they flicker back to full brightness, the lights reveal the bloody aftermath strewn about the elevator floor. As bodies begin to pile up, floor space disappears, heightening the feeling of claustrophobia… like a rising waterline.

I’m not going to say that Devil comes across as effective as Sixth Sense or Unbreakable (or even Signs or The Village). Time will determine that. But I do believe if removed from any negative Shyamalan stigma and given a chance to stand by itself, the film can work as a worthy tent pole to a successful Night Chronicles franchise. Nelson and the Dowdle brothers deserve that from viewers.

I’ve heard from several professional writers, critics, pundits and the like, who are automatically knocking the film because of its pedigree. Some even say they enjoyed the film but gave it a negative grade anyway. Not only is that unfair to the filmmakers, it’s also a dishonest stance to take in an industry that should present a face of unbiased integrity. No, critics and film bloggers are not necessarily traditional journalists, but most readers do come to respect the words of serious film writers and therefore deserve honest opinions.

Give Devil a try. It's a creepy little story that succeeds because of its taut direction and smart writing. Despite what you’ve heard, you might be surprised.

(Released by Universal and rated “PG-13” for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.)

Review also posted at

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