So for the film to feature his name across it, despite there being a different writer and director, could well be seen as a negative to begin with. As from the outset critics, media and audience are divided.
Personally I subscribe to the minority that liked everything he's done, that is up until The Happening (Filmstalker review). I've talked many times about why I believe people don't like Shyamalan post The Sixth Sense, and I shan't go into it here again, but my approach to Devil was that he was producing and came up with the story, but it was someone else's screenplay and film, and I wasn't going to write it off from the opening poster or trailer.
The reason they need a rescue is that there seems to be a high degree of personal danger in the lift, and with no one else around, they're being murdered one by one by someone in the lift with them.
Devil opens superbly well, the sequence travelling towards the tower building is quite imaginative and knocks you off kilter immediately just by the very absence of normality, or rather the normality we know and expect twisted around to look and feel very abnormal.
The film keeps a strong style when involving anything with the externals of the building, and while most of the action takes place internally, it does make for some strong transition shots to show the growing focus of danger on the location.
Throughout the film the scenes in the lift were by far the better part of the film, this is where the strength of the story lay and had the potential to deliver something very paranoid and uncertain, drawing the audience into the situation that the characters were experiencing and giving them the same paranoid feelings that they were having.
I had hoped that we would be confused as to whether there was something supernatural involved or whether it was one of the people inside the lift, and that's where the film definitely missed an opportunity, for it didn't present us with this problem. It could have really kept us guessing with the characters and that would have made us feel much more part of the film, we would have felt that we were inside that lift too.
It didn't do that, instead the film plays the supernatural element from the beginning. Now although I think it could have done much better by playing the question out and placing us with the people in the lift, it still does a pretty good job of keeping pace and tension going throughout and not struggling with the confines of the story.
Actually another way for the story to have gone would have been to play it out with the audience placed along with the police detectives, learning about events as they do. Either way, placing us with one of the groups of characters and not seeing the other would have been much more enjoyable.
There are some specific moments that really slap you in the face about the story when it should be a lot subtler. Moments such as the face on the camera feed and the praying from the religious security guard were a little too concrete and signposting for the story. Add to that the moments when the detective seems all too willing to believe in the supernatural side above anything else and you're faced with no possible doubt about the direction of the story. That's a shame, for there's not that level of uncertainty, of guessing, an element of doubt, instead we know from the outset that this is all about the supernatural.
It does do a good job of setting up the story at the beginning with the suicide and the story of the detective, and while some elements of the story are easily guessed, one of the big reveals delivers well and did give a bit of a surprise.
Other reveals were indeed easy to guess, and some will be shouting about the Night twists at this point, not so, remember he didn't write the story. Sure there were some reveals that didn't surprise and I had guessed them, but the story or the film didn't totally rely on them. No, they weren't big The Sixth Sense reveals, but this its not The Sixth Sense, let it go already.
Even though the film does focus on the supernatural side from the beginning, it doesn't feel particularly supernaturally frightening. I did feel the scares and the tension, and I did feel myself being pulled along with a good pace and some of the affects a thriller has, however considering this supernatural force was meant to be the devil, I would have expected more of those supernatural elements, and more weight to the actions of this creature.
As I said, for those of us who watch a lot of horror and thrillers it easy to guess the face of the devil, but the real ending, the real surprise is delivered a little better. It certainly had come to my mind earlier, but I'd dropped it as unimportant and moved on. I do think the final flashback was unnecessary and out of place, but it got the point across, even if it was with a brick.
There were some rather odd moments too over and above the unsubtle moments, and the biggest was when the detective and the security guard have a brief moment together which looked right out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. They look at the screen in shock, them to each other, then back to the screen, and then...it does stand out like a sore thumb and a really bad comedic moment.
Some have had a go at the film for each of the character reveals being obvious but I don't think this last one is, and it's this one that's the important one to the story, sure the others could have been better and elevated the whole film, but they weren't any worse than a lot of stock thrillers in Hollywood and I guess as lot of this comes down to half full or half empty.
The film has also come under a lot of criticism for the acting, and while it's true that it's not filled with A-List stars and performances, it's not exactly amateur theatre. The performances are good and do carry conviction. There are some that aren't as strong, but there certainly aren't any terrible ones.
Devil wasn't a bad thriller and perhaps doesn't deserve a lot of the harsh criticism it receives. It did have some good moments, and yes it did have a good few poor ones. It didn't hit the mark with a lot of the things that it tried to deliver but did quite well with the final story reveal, the crux of the story.
The real strength lies in the opening set-ups and the scenes in the lift, but there is no doubt that these could have been handled differently and produced a much better result, a much stronger thriller.
It's certainly not the disaster that so many want to associate with the name of M. Night Shyamalan, but it's quite a way from the strong and surprising thriller that we could have been treated to.
I'd say gives this a chance, but only if there's the usual Hollywood rubbish on or you're renting.
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