Express elevator to Hell No ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Express elevator to Hell No

My rating:

Looks like the Shyamalan backlash has set in. Dismal reviews from AV Club and James Berardinelli; a not-that-bad 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, but even the positive reviews have caveats about the man's dismal reputation following The Last Airbender. A movie I hated, incidentally, but I was still willing to give the man a chance on his latest. Besides, I believe the reports of his career tailspin have been greatly exaggerated. If the reports are true that the trailer for this film was greeted with derisive laughter in cinemas, I suspect it was more due to the pomposity of the "From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan" credit rather than any real disdain towards the man himself. After all, Airbender made money.

But after this? He doesn't deserve to. Make money, that is. Or any more movies. Or inflict upon us anything else from his mind.

Five strangers (Bokeem Woodbine, Bojana Novakovic, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Geoffrey Arend) are trapped in a stuck elevator in a Philadelphia high-rise building. Security guards Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and Lustig (Matt Craven) try to help them, but it soon becomes clear that there is a murderer amongst the five who is preying on the others - and who may be the Devil himself. Police detective Bowden (Chris Messina) arrives on the scene and attempts to rescue them, but even he may have a role to play in the Devil's game.

Now this is why I review movies, and why I think a movie, any movie, is worth writing such lengthy reviews for: because they are complex machines. They are made up of a myriad components - the performance of every actor, the work of every crew member, and each of the thousand-and-one things the director has to decide on - and all these things have the potential to be excellent to middling to awful. Devil does one thing pretty well and another thing pretty damn badly, and I am almost certain that this is where audience reactions will be split.

Let's start with the good thing first, which is that it's perfectly satisfactory at delivering the expected chills and thrills. Director John Erick Dowdle succeeds at creating that all-important sense of dread that had me hugging my backpack tightly in my seat. (Or maybe it was the full-blast aircond in a ¾-empty cinema.) And I emphatically disagree with Berardinelli's review when he said the movie had no sense of claustrophobia. It was plenty claustrophobic; its cinematographer is the excellent Tak Fujimoto, who creates claustrophobia via the simple trick of shooting in tight close-ups of the lift occupants' faces. As a supernatural horror-thriller, Devil is really quite well-executed.

The problem is that the story - the thing that is being executed - is stupid. And it's a story that has Shyamalan's pawprints all over it. It purports to create this mythology whereby every now and then, the Devil likes to pick a bunch of sinners and torment them before killing them and claiming their souls - and it's a mythology that it just so happens Ramirez's mom knows all about. Y'see, Ramirez is the expert on everything that the Devil is up to in this movie, because his mom told him these stories when he was a kid. That is one smart mom. And thus it is up to Ramirez to provide all the exposition and convince everyone else of it, which at one point he does by dropping a piece of toast - because bad things happen when the Devil's around! That's why the toast fell jelly side down!

And the film takes this seriously. That scene with the toast is taken 100% seriously. Because this whole business with the Devil is meant to make Important Points about Morality and Spirituality and it's boooolsheeeit. It's all utterly laughable, because Shyamalan's story and Brian Nelson's screenplay make zero effort to be convincing. Now, let me say that I am not entirely averse to religious or spiritual themes in film; I am, however, averse to lazy screenwriting. I am reminded of Signs, in which Shyamalan's themes of faith and redemption were undercut by the sheer stupidity of that magical substance that is the only thing that can defeat the evil invading aliens. It's lazy.

And that is ultimately the hallmark of Shyamalan's recent work, even in a film in which he only provided the story (and slapped his name all over). His thing has always been to treat sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural material with utter realism and seriousness, but without the skill and effort to make it believable, it just comes off as overbaked silliness. Devil would not be a perfect film even if it wasn't for the story; Chris Messina is awfully wooden, and all the characters feel like pieces in a board game rather than human beings. But Shyamalan's stink is all over it, ruining what is otherwise a neat premise with its pseudo-profound philosophical poppycock.

Expectations: hey hey hey, it's Joe Dante!


The Poyo Me said...

oh please, give that man another chance.....NOT.

Anonymous said...

though hate this man since after 6th sense but i think this one is really good actly...forget the acting n ramirez story...the story is good n all make sense oso theres a twist sumore n quite thrill...just my opinion

Pure Raver said...

To say that this is scary, hell no. was quite dissapointed, but nice shocking scenes.

Dialogue was rubbish for me.

Aku Pembaca Filem said...

1 star untuk dah takde kaedah atau cara lain ke untuk tolong@selamatkan mangsa2 yang stuck dalam lif selain tengok aksi diorang di bilik pengawal? Piece of shit...