December 17, 2010

Blu-ray Review: Devil (2010)

M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting career. He has had his highs and lows and boy have they been high and low. The problem is that rather than a roller coaster, it started at the top of the mountain and then began to fall and it has, more or less, been downhill ever since. The guy really needs a bit of a career makeover. That brings us to Devil, which is a new angle for Shyamalan, a move for the better in my book. He steps away from the writer's desk and the director's chair. With this movie he serves as the idea man and producer, letting others do the dirty work.

To say that Shyamalan's name brand value has fallen would be an understatement. When I saw the trailer  and his name appeared you could hear stifled laughter around the theater (something I experienced more than once). I still have faith in him as a director. Watch any of his films, liked or not, and you will see the work of a man with a great eye for screen composition. Of course, that comes with a lot of bad as well, he is nothing if not frustrating. What Devil proves is that he may be bad at screenwriting, but he is still a good idea man.

Devil is part one of the Nightmare Chronicles, a series of films based on original ideas from Shyamalan but written and directed by others. John Erick Dowdle directs this first entry, his prior work includes Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes (which has yet to receive an official release). The screenplay was written by Brian Nelson, who counts the excellent Hard Candy among his credits. Not a bad pair if you ask me. The goal seems to work these films on a low budget with up and coming talent combining their visions on the project that will hopefully bring more exposure to them all.

Cast with lesser known performers Devil is a small film with limited locations (mainly an elevator car) that relies on the writing and pacing to build tension and carry the story. It is a film that is quite nightmarish and seems to exist within its own contained universe that is separate from our own, in a Twilight Zone-esque fashion. Still, the basic premise feels quite real. Who has ever been trapped in an elevator with strangers before? If you haven't, I am sure you can imagine it. There is certain to be a certain level of apprehension as you look at the faces around you, sizing them up as potential threats. Or not. I don't really care how you slice it, a stuck elevator is sure to raise some nerves regardless of the source.

Devil takes that fear of being trapped in an elevator and puts a supernatural spin on the content as it turns it into a morality tale preaching forgiveness/ The story opens with narration telling of a story about how the Devil will come to the Earth to torment those he is about to claim for Hell. This leads into a locked-room mystery with the group of five people trapped on the elevator. One of them is not who they seem and by the end of it all you can be guaranteed that some bad things are going to happen.

The story is not all that deep but the morality play is interesting, telling about the journey we take and our quest for redemption. What may seem like chance may not be, it could just be how we are guided towards that redemption. All you need is that opening for catharsis to find the forgiveness (or lack thereof) that is needed. Of course, this is told with violence, suspicion, and doubt.

Religious undertones abound, the movie is essentially based on them. It is fun watching it play out, how paranoia creeps in, mistrust takes over, before long it is a real mess inside a confined space while those on the outside busy themselves with trying to put an end to the situation when they have little control over it. Only when their role in the confined mystery is needed are they able to exert any sort of force over the situation and even then it is not all that much. This story is all about those on the elevator, those trying to get in represent us and our futility in affecting change where we have no place being.

While not being a first-rate film, it is executed well with good direction and fine performances throughout. It is one that can help restore some faith in Shyamalan while also hopefully helping him realize the areas he needs help with.

Audio/Video. I cannot say I was wowed by the transfer. The opening is pretty eye popping, withe upside down fly over (under?) Philadelphia and down the elevator shaft. However, once we are inside the building it just does not look the way I thought it should. Perhaps that is my fault for expectations, but while the detail levels are generally pretty good (particularly in close up), the colors are muted and the blacks never seem truly black. It does not look terribly by any stretch and I am sure it is steps above the DVD, but I cannot help but feel it could have been better. On the other hand, the DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio track delivers the goods. It gives us nicely centered audio, a well represented score, and nice use of surrounds to help build the tension. There are no real standout sequences, but overall it does the trick with plenty of elevator groans to make sure you remember where you are.

Extras. The disk is pretty slim on the extras. I would have loved a commentary track.
  • Deleted Scenes. There are 3 scenes included, they are introductory scenes for Salesman, Old Woman, and Mechanic. They are simple little bits and I am glad they were cut, they would have done nothing but slow it down. In the grand scheme of things they are completely unnecessary and it seems they thought the same thing.
  • The Story. A quick piece about the genesis of the story and what it is about.
  • The Devil's Meeting. This is a short clip that speaks of South American mythology about the Devil and what happens when he arrives to claim souls.
  • The Nightmare Chronicles. This is an explanation of what the Nightmare Chronicles are about, working with indie talent and lower budgets on Shyamalan ideas.
Bottomline. The extras may be skimpy, but the disk looks good and the movie is solid. That's what it's all about, right? If the movie is good the disk should be worth it and I believe this satisfies that requirement. This is an enjoyable movie that I have watched a few times now and have enjoyed each time. 


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Devil (2010) on Blogcritics.

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