There can be few who doubt his competence and innovation, but M Night Shyamalan’s directorial output has been subject to a wide spectrum of critical opinion, from the giddy and the drooling, through to the deafening wall of derision that met his special effects-laden vehicle The Last Airbender, a film with dialogue that surely forms the spiritual home of cheap titter. Naturally, when Shyamalan gets it right, his delivery is impressive, but even his finest products seem to be missing the final slice of magic that will push his movies into the stellar category.
Interesting, then, that Night should declare his new triumvirate of edgy movies, The Night Chronicles, as the films that he ‘desperately wants to direct’ himself. He resists the temptation to do so, and instead lends some less established directors the opportunity to direct movies with the considerable weight of his backing as producer (and, in this instance, story writer).
And so, enter stage left, Devil, an impressively taut and claustrophobic exercise in modern horror which benefits from high production values and some creative filmmaking that could (save for some flaws in characterisation and moments that border upon unintentional parody) make Night’s retreat from the director’s chair seem like the most sensible move he’s made in years.
Director John Eric Dowdle (perhaps best known for his rehash of the chilling Spanish horror Rec, re-titled as Quarantine), leaves you with little doubt of his intentions from the word go; his aim is to unsettle, to rattle, and to lock you into his paranoid vision. The opening narration goes some way to revealing the structure of the entire piece, and revels in its prophecy of impending doom. As corporate America begins its day, a skyscraper suicide occurs, and as such a portal to hell is ripped open for the Devil himself to wreak havoc amongst an uncomfortably incongruous group of unlikeables trapped together in the building’s lift. The Devil has adopted human form and is desperate to consume the soul of a victim, but which miserable human is Old Nick himself, and whom will he drag down into hell with him?
Dowdle constructs a tangible sense of fear from an early stage, with the credits emerging in front of black clouds and an inverted, scrolling view of city buildings (surely a Satanic perspective). As the camera swoops through the rotating fan on top of a skyscraper and down into a plunging lift shaft, it’s clear that this is a slick production, and the intelligent filming continues throughout, with the particularly tricky lift scenes showing little sign of the difficulties that must have presented themselves in such a confined space. Trusted cinematographer Tak Fujimoto brings his considerable experience to the production, and the visuals clearly benefit from his safe hands.
Dowdle also plays a smart trick by engulfing the trapped and suspicious ensemble in a tiny, confined space, and surrounding the outside world with dark, rolling clouds, blustery winds, and a atmosphere of apocalyptic dread, as if divine powers are clashing in an almighty battle with the lift car representing the epicentre of this gargantuan struggle. Indeed, Dowdle occasionally depicts selected characters bathed in glowing white light from an opening in the roof of the lift, as if a holy power is gazing down and providing protection.
For all of the impressive delivery, and the engaging sense of paranoia, fear, and dread, Devil does exhibit some flaws which are substantial enough to affect the finished output. Some of the symbolism, for example, is subtle (take the elements of red on each character trapped in the lift, making it trickier for the viewer to guess which shell Satan has adopted), yet other symbolism is perhaps too overt, such as the ‘333’ numbering of the doomed building. The incarcerated characters are almost universally unlikeable, and as a result we find it difficult to be concerned about their perilous predicament. And some parts of the script generate situations that are almost comic, and threaten the suspension of reality which is so convincing at other times. The moment where superstitious Ramirez tosses the toast on the floor to see if the Devil is nearby, for example, is not sinister; just ridiculous.
Overall though, it’s a strong opener for the Night Chronicles series, and presents an impressive horror piece that enjoys an appeal across a wider than usual viewing audience. With news that The Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm may be directing another instalment in the series, Mr Shyamalan may just have put his wandering career in film back on track.
Devil arrives on a single disc. Visually, this presentation is stunning. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and at 1080p, the scope of the film is delivered in its full glory, with the detail of the skyscrapers during the opening credits being captured in absorbing, fine detail. The movement of the images is smooth and seamless, with no damage, distortion, or pixilation apparent. The colours are especially rich, whether the dark blues of the clouding sky, the vibrant reds of the shed blood, or the convincing shades of the characters’ skin, brought to life with a combination of the colour and the detailed definition.
The disc is encoded for region B, and the total file size is just over 25Gb, with the movie itself constituting a 21.5Gb file size. Running at 23.976 frames per second and using the VC-1 encoder, the result is a transparent transfer of the film that looks superb and does justice to this interesting horror.
There are English hard of hearing subtitles, plus provision for French and Spanish subtitles too.
Just as the visuals are remarkably strong on this Universal Pictures release, so is the sound. Audio is available in English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround, or French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround. The audio soundtrack proves an immersive and exciting accompaniment to the film, with the thuds and bangs bursting out of the soundscape with convincing power and resonance. The resultant effect is that this tense film is particularly effective at making you jump, and wreaking havoc with your nervous system! The movement of the sounds across the spectrum is impressive, and there is a lot of detail in the background.
There is also a supplied Descriptive Video Service (DVS), where the action is described by a narrator.
For a high quality Blu-ray release, extras are unquestionably disappointing. The first segment is a Deleted Scenes featurette, running for 3 minutes and 56 seconds. It’s a fairly interesting slot, presenting three introductions for some of the main characters. The Salesman… introduction is perhaps the most enjoyable of the three.
The Story contains clips from the film, cut with interviews with the director, producer and writer. If you removed the interviews, and bear in mind this segment runs for two and a half minutes, it would seem little more than a trailer!
The Devil’s Meeting follows a similar format, with some opinions surrounding the folklore of the story sitting sandwiched between clips of the film. This part runs for just under two and a half minutes.
The Night Chronicles is just over two minutes long, and describes the series that Night is putting together. With Devil proving an effective combination of horror and tension, the future instalments are awaited with much excitement and anticipation.
My Scenes allows you to bookmark your favourite parts of the film, and the D-BOX Motion Code function allows those with wireless access to be able to watch trailers and other content online.
There’s an underwhelming selection of extras, and the movie suffers from unlikeable characters and a script that occasionally moves into unintentionally comic territory, but with extremely high production values, and the depiction of a taut, claustrophobic, and epically-proportioned battle that promises plenty of scares and jumps, Devil is an efficient and enjoyable horror flick that bodes well for the remainder of The Night Chronicles.