Review: The Dowdles' 'Devil' kicks off The Night Chronicles in high style
The new film "Devil," which is part one of a new label called "The Night Chronicles," is exactly the sort of thing that fans though they'd be getting from M. Night Shyamalan when he first became a name brand and not "just" a filmmaker.
I'm not surprised. The film was directed by the Dowdles, John Erick and Drew, and written by Brian Nelson. The Dowdles are responsible for "Quarantine" and "The Poughkeepsie Tapes," and they're talented horror filmmakers who have proven they've got the chops to genuinely unsettle an audience. With this movie, they've finally made something that has a shot at being seen by a wide audience that's not a remake and it's not so graphic it will scare people away. And it was written by Brian Nelson, who was the screenwriter for "30 Days Of Night" and "Hard Candy," who seems like a natural fit for this sort of story. The original idea was created by Shyamalan, who then handed it off to this creative team and who served as producer on the film. Yes… these are "The Night Chronicles," but based on this first one, it appears there is room in this series for strong individual storytelling voices aside from Night's.
"Devil" is a tight, smart little suspense piece that tells the story of five strangers who end up trapped in an elevator in a skyscraper together, unaware that one of them is not what they appear to be. It's a straight-up "Twilight Zone" style morality play, and it just plain works. From the very start, with an opening title sequence that's built over an upside-down trip through an urban landscape, the film works at creating a feeling of disquietude.
Chris Messina stars here as Detective Bowden, a NYC homicide investigator wrestling with the anger and guilt over the loss of his wife and son in a hit-and-run accident that almost led him to an alcoholic suicide. He's called in to the scene of a strange puzzle, a bread truck that appears to have been caved in by the impact of a jumper, but which is parked outside a two-story building. Messina's attempts to sort out that puzzle draw him into the movie's central nightmare in a very personal way, and considering it's an 80-minute film, there's no fat on the storytelling.
Each of the characters is introduced as they arrive at the building with economy. There's Tony (Logan Marshall-Green), an old woman (Jenny O'Hara), Sarah (Bojana Novakovic), a temp security guard for the building named Ben (Bokeem Woodbine), and a smart-alec salesman named Vince (Geoffrey Arend), all of them en route to various destinations in the building. Midway up, the elevator stops, and right away, things start to go wrong.
Like many of the best Serling stories, this is a microcosm of behavior in which each of these people has their own baggage they bring to that encounter, and the identity of the person or thing that is causing all the crazy incidents is held off till very close to the end of the film, allowing the movie to cast real suspicion on each of the characters in turn. It's shrewd, if not terribly original, and it works here because of the no-nonsense structure of things. The film doesn't try to obfuscate too dramatically. It's more interested in just telling the story efficiently and getting out. Nelson's script is directed with precision by the Dowdles, and the film's energy is involving without feeling frantic. Tak Fujimoto gives the film a great classic sheen, there's an aggressive score by Fernando Velazquez, and it's cut beautifully by Elliot Greenberg. Overall, it's cleanly made, with little flourish, and it feels like the Dowdles are getting better as they go.
If this is the start of the series, then bring on more of "The Night Chronicles," because "Devil" is great fun without any pretense, and the best thing Night's name has been on in years.
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