Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine. (2010, PG-13, 80 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 24, 2010
It's not exactly Phone Booth in an elevator with Rosemary's baby's daddy, as the trailer had genre fans believing – alas, no intricately warped Larry Cohen plotting here; more's the pity. Devil is, apparently, the opening salvo in M. Night Shyamalan's incoming The Night Chronicles series, and it would have made more of an impact if it just cut the cable and let the whole claustrophobic affair plummet into the abyss. As it is, the script (by Brian Nelson from a story by Shyamalan) spends an inordinate amount of expositional time outside the hellishly cramped confines of the ’vator as Philly Detective Bowden (Messina), a recovering alcoholic, monitors the unfolding events via closed-circuit TV and finds diabolic underpinnings in a confined situation with great potential for suspense. In short, five strangers with unknown but assumed ties to one another are trapped in a mysteriously immobile elevator, and, no surprise, there's something else in there with them. Fear, mounting anxiety, and a decided lack of Xanax are the rules of the game, and when the lights begin to flicker and then go out completely, bloodshed enters the squabbling fray, considerably upping the paranoiac ante. Dowdle, who helmed Quarantine, the U.S. remake of the superior Spanish film [Rec], does manage a few moments of well-calibrated terror (kudos to the foley masters behind Devil's creepified soundscape), and Shyamalan's ongoing trickery with audience expectations is decidedly in effect (nothing is entirely coincidental in this one way lift to doom), but it's not enough to merit a full 80 minutes. In the end, Devil feels like an ingenious short film pumped up for theatrical release. Shyamalan's story is sound, but the execution dragged me to hell and left me there wondering if his much-rumored sequel to Unbreakable was ever going to arrive.