It takes a village. My friend Fetsko may have ruined the ending of DEVIL for me, but I had it on good authority (The Mickster) that it was worth a spin anyway. Fortuitously, my generous neighbors Raj and Amanda had rented the film from my buddy Carol and allowed me to kidnap the disc overnight. I think it’s ironically fitting that so many people had a hand in my finally getting to see this film on account of DEVIL gets some serious play out of urban suspicion and the fear of strangers. Oh, and it takes place in my hometown of Philadelphia too. Whoever’s idea it was to show “The City of Brotherly Shoves” upside down during the opening credits is a genius. It’s disorienting and sinisterly effective, not to mention splendidly thrifty.
Actually DEVIL is as economical as a coupon-clipping auntie. You got your limited setting, minimal special effects and nada on the marquee names (unless Claire’s Republican boyfriend from the last season of SIX FEET UNDER and that weird lady who got canned from the first season of FACTS OF LIFE are marquee names.) We often wax nostalgic here about television movies from the seventies and there’s a reason for that, with limited budgets, emphasis was placed on storytelling and characters. DEVIL behaves like a television movie and that’s a compliment. It’s not always entirely credible but I’ve got the back of any movie that moves at its own pace and doesn’t desperately resort to banging on a pot with a ladle to get my attention. Kudos to this humble dumpling for making back its production budget on its first weekend in theaters, but I’m glad I caught it at home, late at night, on the couch where it belongs.
Who’s afraid of M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN? I’d say, anyone who has witnessed the hilarity of THE HAPPENING. As you may know, DEVIL is the first part of a proposed trilogy from the guy. It’s based on a tale from his head, though it’s written by BRIAN NELSON (HARD CANDY) and directed by QUARANTINE’s JOHN ERICK DOWDLE. Don’t worry, it’s not as silly as NIGHT’s last couple tablecloth tricks but it does bare his fingerprints as it focuses on generic morality, beeline redemption and that stinky emotional residue that often results when one is a shitty driver. Claustrophobics should find it especially tense as the action involves a group of people trapped in a small space being mysteriously slaughtered one by one. As for me, I’m just happy it stars my favorite villain of all time. I mentioned DEVIL’s T.V. movie nature, it’s really just SATAN’S TRIANGLE on an elevator and that suits me just fine.
It’s important that I don’t pull a Fetsko and reveal too much more of the plot (Mickster’s right, the ending really is a hoot whether you anticipate it or not.) It’s enough to say that DEVIL has a lean, breath of fresh air approach when compared to much of its competition. It stirs a pot of paranoia and makes you question what you have witnessed rather than chucking rubber spiders at your head at regular intervals. I doubt it will make me cautious of elevator travel in the future but it does nice work exasperating the worry that everybody is not quite what they appear to be. There’s some good performances here too, so don’t be surprised if Claire’s boyfriend (CHRIS MESSINA) does become a marquee name in the future. (I’m also rewarding DEVIL with an extra gold star for employing shish kabob recipient MATT CRAVEN of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME who was also in JACOB’S LADDER. I’m always glad to see that guy. ) Here’s hoping the future additions to this imagined trilogy are patient enough to reach the same floor.