From the slush pile of M. Night Shyamalan comes Devil, a silly horror-thriller about a group of people trapped in an elevator with Satan incarnate. It’s Agatha Christie meets Final Destination as one of them picks off the others, one by one, whenever the elevator car loses power. (The effects are always the same: A dark screen, followed by a sound roughly equivalent to unsecured luggage kicking around in a large trunk.) Who could it be? The smarmy salesman (Geoffrey Arend) who oozes contempt for everyone else? The beefy security guard (Bokeem Woodbine) on his first day on the job? The pretty blueblood (Bojana Novakovic)? The kindly old lady (Jenny O’Hara)? The glowering mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green) with a suspicious hoodie? Place your bets now, because the devil can take many forms, and it won’t make a lick of sense in the end anyway.
To be fair, Shyamalan didn’t write or direct Devil; he’s only credited with the story, and for developing the project under his “Night Chronicles” production banner. To be accurate, though, Shyamalan’s authorial pawprints are all over the film, from little things like the Philadelphia setting and the overlay of existential angst to more obvious hallmarks, like the gimmicky premise and cavalcade of nonsensical third-act twists. The difference here is that Shyamalan and company have added a quasi-religious component to insult believers and non-believers alike: There’s a reason these five people have been corralled in the elevator of doom together, and according to the narration, we know this because a suicide precedes the gathering, and the final death takes place in front of a loved one. Because that’s how God operates.
Devil’s low-grade hokum would be hard enough to stomach without the spiritual component; confining half the action to a small space where everyone’s a suspect mostly results in characters looking shifty and shouting accusations at each other. But casting the Almighty as the puppetmaster is a bridge too far. With Devil, Shyamalan likens himself to God: a master of destinies, someone with a grand plan for all of us, someone who works in mysterious ways that we can’t comprehend. Perhaps someday, in the greatest twist of all, Shyamalan will be remembered as the Hitchcock of the early 21st century. Until then, movies like Devil will be misunderstood as schlock.