Director – John Erick Dowdle
Starring – Chris Messina, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Geoffery Arend, Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven
Screenplay – Brian Nelson
Cinematography – Tak Fujimoto
The name of M. Night Shyamalan is enough to evoke harmful images these days. Having a string of flops resting at 4 (The Village, The Lady In The Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender), he should be considered Hollywood poison at this point. When he didn’t get picked to write Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, it was clear that something had to be wrong, because that movie turned out to be a horrible mess. Nonetheless, having worked out a deal with Media Rights Capital in 2008 to produce a series of 3 films called The Night Chronicles (TNC). Although the films are conceptually ideas of Shyamalan, he would not direct or write any of them. His duties limited to producer, he served as a kind of creative consultant and muse to the filmmakers. This move seems to have worked for the first feature in the series. While TNC: Devil is not any type of resounding success, it is far from a failure.
TNC: Devil is a fairly simple concept, 5 people in stuck in an elevator, waiting to get out. Starting with a slow burn, we see
one get injured, and then we have a Detective (Messina) and his partner (Peace) investigating an apparent suicide in the same building called to the scene. What follows is a version of And Then There Were None…where each successive loss throws the suspicion to another in the group. Meanwhile, the building security and the police, are relegated to observers that can speak to the stranded passengers, but cannot hear them talk back.Told at first an outlandish theory by the junior security officer (Vargus) that the person picking the others off is the devil, who is incarnate in one of the passengers. At first pooh-poohed by his boss (Craven), the story resonates with the flawed Detective, who had given up believing in the devil years ago after the death of his wife and son by a hit and run driver. “People,” he says, “Are bad enough by themselves.”
The events are spurred by periodic power outages, a gimmick used to increasingly less effect by film’s end. They try to mix it up a bit, using cell phones, lighters, flashes, but it’s still just turning the lights off and on. Silly subplots with teams of firemen trying to get into the elevator seem like they are from a different movie. These are countered by some efficient detective work by the watching security and Detectives. There is a limited amount of shock value in the big reveal, as it is clear early on what it has to be. That said, the journey of the Detective, as well as the last survivor is somewhat poignant, if not altogether heart warming.
The camera work, done by Tak Fujimoto, provides some of the big benefits to the film. This is especially true when discussing
the movements of the film’s representation of evil. If the film resonates at all, it is because of the cinematography and the journey taken by its protagonists.
Where is this series going? The second film is titled Reincarnate, if that is any indication. There are rumors that the third movie was taken from a script idea for a possible sequel to Unbreakable. I wouldn’t mind seeing the result of this trilogy, but not as much as I would like to see a sequel to the Bruce Willis film.
(*** out of *****)