22 October 2010

DEVIL (Dir. John Erick Dowdle, 2010, US) - Shyamalan's Return

M. Night Shyamalan's Devil reminded me of an extended episode of the iconic Twilight Zone TV series. Produced and based on a story by Shyamalan, the central premise revolves around a group of disparate characters who become trapped in an elevator only to realise that the Devil may actually be orchestrating events around them. I’m not sure if this is an all out horror piece as the raising the stakes narrative manipulation would push it more into the territory of the psychological thriller. Does it involve a final twist?; well, this is a Shyamalan production and Devil is the first of three planned films which will form the Night Chronicles trilogy. Shyamalan is a true auteur in the sense he tends to write, produce and direct most of his films. This means when a film fails he bears the brunt of the critical backlash. Compared to his contemporaries, Shyamalan is quite unique as he has achieved global success with a run of imaginative mainstream films. The Shyamalan backlash that started with The Village seemed to have never stopped and though I stayed away from The Last Airbender, I feel critics have to a certain extent simply written him of. I don’t agree with the opinion that he is a one tricky pony nor do I echo sentiments that Shyamalan relies too much on the novelty of the final twist. My opinion is that Shyamalan is still very much in the early stages of his directing career and though many would criticise his decision to venture into production as a means of salvaging his status as a film maker, I would argue a relatively low budget genre film like Devil suggests he does have the capacity to branch out and emulate the parallel creativity of someone like Spielberg to whom he is regularly compared. Devil is a well crafted genre piece and much of the narrative action is amply sustained in the confines of an elevator whilst the camerawork creates a strong sense of claustrophobia. Thematically, most of Shyamalan’s films have quite a prominent spiritual edge to them and whilst Devil is a minor work in many ways, the enclosed and simplistic staging reminded me of the superbly effective Val Lewton productions which he made for RKO in the 40s.


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