With some trepidation, I set out to see Devil today. Trepidation not because it’s a horror film, not even because it’s about people stuck in a lift (shivers), but because it came from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan. I’m afraid that someone in my theatre today did laugh when his name appeared on screen. I’m not quite certain what to call him – M.? – but he has become something of a joke among some moviegoers, so much so that his association with Devil may have put some people off. But, it shouldn’t. Films such as The Last Airbender and something about water nymphs in a swimming pool may make you want to give it a wide berth with good reason, but Devil served as a reminder to me of other stories from Shyamalan’s mind, and they’ve been very good indeed.
I am not a regular viewer of Horror movies due to a constitution so sensitive that Tomb Raider 4 (the game) scared me to such an extent I sold it back to the shop. Something to do with scarab beetles in dark tombs and having to outrun a murderous bull. Do you remember Ghost Watch (British TV however many years ago)? That gave me nightmares for days. I have it on DVD now, staring at me reproachfully from the shelf where it is still safely restrained in its wrapper. I like to be scared but it’s too easy to do. M. Night Shyamalan (M.) is a solution to that.
M.’s horror hits the right note for me. It’s not gory or bloody, it’s suggestive and it’s all about the story. The Sixth Sense was and is a superb piece of storytelling and when the twist came, I wasn’t expecting it and it hooked me. Unbreakable was a disappointment when it came (unlike Stuart Little). I’m a SciFi nut/geek to the nth degree and I was gripped by Signs for weeks. I saw it several times quickly. The aliens when they appeared were a drawback but the whole idea or thought of what might be going on in the cornfields and the fear that drives (I would say sane but we’re talking Joaquin Phoenix here) people to put tin foil on their heads terrified me. The sound of unknown feet running around the porch, on the roof…
But what I liked about Signs in particular were the different stories slotting together, the different moods and the real dread that you never know what’s on the other side of the door or what faces you at the end of your life.
And then, for me, it all went off and I didn’t enjoy another Shyamalan film. The Village was M. trying to continue something with Phoenix just as Breakable was continuing the link with Willis, but the mood was gone and it wasn’t regained.
And then Devil came along. I was grabbed by the premise – five strangers are trapped in a skyscraper lift, a frightening concept even without throwing the devil into the mix. But throw him in and you’ll be reminded why people have a fear of being stuck in lifts. The actors are unknown (at least to me) and so you have no idea who is next for the chop. The moments of pure darkness are all about suggested fear. Horrors happen but in black, secret confinement. Terrifying. The characters outside the lift fight their own demons and superstitions.
The situation and atmosphere are frightening and gripping. The scenes inside the small space of the lift are very well done. It’s clean and sharp. However, there were some disappointments. This film is a very short one, not a bad thing in itself at all, but we have only the littlest of background for several of the characters. The dangers outside the lift could have been more frightening (even for me), and the efforts to release the captives more desperate. And when you know so little about the characters, the end may not satisfy. The superstitious security guard was a little hard to take, as was the police’s easy acceptance of him. I mean, he was right, but he didn’t seem that convincing…
Neverthless, Devil is well worth a look. It’s not gory or bloody but it is frightening. It’s almost as if it’s a horror movie for people who don’t normally like horror. This was Night Chronicles 1, I’ll certainly see 2. I hope it won’t be a let down.