Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Devil" - Snark Review

It's no secret that M. Night Shyamalan isn't highly regarded these days. He's essentially been on a downward slope since the very beginning of his career. He started out with The Sixth Sense to huge critical acclaim, and followed it up with Unbreakable which, while not as big a critical darling as its predecessor was still widely praised for being a smart, original take on the superhero genre. It was also the first nail in the coffin of Shyamalan's infamous "Twist Ending" habit.

Things started really going downhill with the release of Signs which got more mixed reactions than his other films. At the time this was just seen as a bump in the road to most fans, after all everybody makes at least one bad film, right? Things just got worse with 2004's "The Village, which is where most former fans of Shymalan's work point to when asked where he went wrong. But the village was still met with some positive reviews, with the major problem being the weak and rather ludicrous twist at the end. Then came Lady in the Water, a self-indulgent modern fairy tail where Shyamalan wrote himself as a man whose writing will bring peace to the world. This is where people started officially saying his career was dead, that it couldn't possibly get worse than that.

Oh, how naive we were back then. Shyamalan began garnering a different type of audience in 2008 with the release of The Happening, a film so campy, ridiculous, poorly written and acted that Shymalan was from then on known as the director to look towards for So-Bad-It's-Good type films. Things would hit their apex 2 years later with the critically panned pile of rat filth known as The Last Airbender, a film that many have compared to the Holocaust of movies. The anti-Citizen Kane. For all of 2010, that film was THE film to point to as the bar for horrible movies. Critics would call a movie terrible, horrible, awful, and they would still say "Hey, at least it's not The Last Airbender." Nearly every critic put it as their #1 worst movie of the year. Also, it had penis hair:

You can't unsee it.

Why do I bring up Shymalan's long and storied descent into shittery? Because you need to understand the mindset going into this movie that, while written by Shyamalan, was not directed by him. This could mean only bad. You see, while the writing of his movies has steadily dropped in quality, Shyamalan has always managed to be a decent director, sometimes even brilliant. While this was never enough to rescue his more awful works, it's always meant you were going to have something good to look for amongst all the horse droppings.

But now, you have an M. Night Shyamalan story, with a relatively unknown director, no well know actors, and a story that is accurately summed up with the sentence "Five people get stuck in an elevator in a building, and one of the is The Devil." This has got to be hilarious! So without further ado, we shall go into the first part of the Night Trilogy.

We start off with a title screen with some random bible verse that's obviously only in there because it has the world "Devil" in it. This is a clear sign that the director doesn't know what the hell he's doing, so he stuck scripture in the front to make it seem like this is all an allusion to the bible, or religion, or some crap like that. This, combined with all the meaningless christian imagery in the promotional material and the mention of a road called Bethlehem Pike, makes it clear that these film makers are students of the Neon Genesis Evangelion school of religious iconography.

Significantly more subtle than Devil
Our establishing shots in the movie are of a city, only the cameraman was apparently drunk while they were filming those shots, because everything is upside down. Either that or the director wanted to remind everybody that he too saw the trailer for Inception. Then we're introduced to our narrator, who we later find out is a security guard in the building where the majority of the music takes place. He tells us how his mom used to read him bed time stories about the devil taking human form and killing people. Some might find this strange, but I can relate. I remember when I was younger and my mom would sing me to sleep with the wonderful tales of Lovecraft. Anyway, the narrator also tells us that in order for the Devil to do this, there has to be a suicide first. Why? Who knows, it's never explained, but I wont' complain because it gives us our first lol-worthy moment of the film. A janitor is outside an office building, sweeping the sidewalk, when somebody drops into frame from up above, lands smack dab on top of a truck with and audible *thunk* and the force of the impact causes the truck to roll forward into the street.

Oh god, it's Happening again...I apologize for that.

Desrcibing it doesn't do it justice.

This prompts Cop #1 and Cop #2 to show up and try and figure out if he jumped or was pushed, and we're told through some extremely forced expository dialogue that Cop #1 is in AA because of some tragedy in his past. Really, this is only set up for the inevitable twist at the end and mostly there for the writer to shove his poorly thought out pathos on the audience.

Next scene, we're introduced to the 5 "main" characters of this thing, where it's quickly established that they're all idiots who freak out at a moment's notice and are complete pricks to one another. They're given names, but they aren't really important until the very end so we'll go ahead and go by their most prevalent characteristics. We've got White Guy, Black Security Guard (BSG for short), Younger Woman, Old Woman, and Jew Fro. They get into an express elevator together to go to their respective floors, and half-way up the elevator gets stuck. These people being who they are, they all start acting like ants under a magnifying glass. Since it's not like elevators get stuck all the time and it's usually a simple fix. No, clearly they all need to start acting like chickens with their heads cut off and start acting like they're each about to be lynched by the other 4, which is exactly what they do.

We switch perspectives to the 2 security guards in the building, who see that the elevator is broken down. They talk to the 5 in the elevator through the emergency radio inside it, and tell them they'll have Dwight, the engineer, try and figure out what's wrong with the elevator and get them out. The security guards are Lustig and Ramirez. Ramirez is our narrator from earlier and he resumes his duty as our disembodied voice when Lustig tells him about the suicide in the building in order to inform us that the devil also will occasionally take an innocent's life in order to preserve his plans. This has the effect of spoiling Dwight's eventual death later on.

A note to screenwriters: DON'T SPOIL YOUR OWN FUCKING STORY. This movie was already too ridiculous to have any sense of tension or suspense, but if it had, that bit of superfluous bullshit would have wrecked any chance at it. All this ever accomplishes is to fuck up your narrative flow and turn the story into a waiting game. The audience is no longer worried or interested in the characters. Instead, they're now just waiting for the person to die. This does not an entertaining story make.

Anyway, Jew Fro apparently tries to grope Younger Woman, then starts bragging about how good of a mattress salesman he is. This manages to piss off everyone else and they start avoiding him. Then the lights go off for a few seconds and BSG practically pisses himself, since he's apparently claustrophobic. This goes fucking nowhere but I bring it up for completion's sake. Anyway, Jew Fro goes on to piss off BSG by calling him "bro". And BSG replies with the funniest line I've heard in a while. In a completely serious attempt to be intimidating he tells him:

"I'm not your bro. Now sit yo' creepy ass down."

This is definitely an M. Night Shymalan movie.

The lights flicker again and Younger Woman gets cut or bitten or something, and everybody blames Jew Fro. The guards see that somebody's been hurt and tell Cop #1 and Cop #2 about what's going on. Ramirez then tries to tell them that he saw an image of a face in the camera for a split-second when the lights flickered, and that this is evidence that the Devil is inside the elevator with them, and he's going to kill everyone in there. They don't believe him, and what follows cannot be described. Just watch:

That's right. His toast lands jelly side down, so that means the Devil is here. Jesus christ, what does this guy do in his life when little things go wrong? He gets a flat tire; DEVIL. He stubs his toe when walking to the bathroom in the night; IT'S THE FUCKING DEVIL. He misses a shot in skeeball; EL DIABLO, AYE AYE AYE.

Anyway, the lights go out in the elevator again and there's some scuffle. When the light returns, they find the mirror in the back of the elevator shattered, and Jew Fro dead next to it with a huge shard stabbed into his throat. This gets the police's attention and they start working on a way to get in there. Tensions rise as they try to figure out who's the killer, and security tape reveals that Old Woman stole somebody's wallet before she got on the elevator, Younger Woman only pretended to be groped by Jew Fro, and they discover BSG has been arrested multiple times for assault and that Jew Fro was being charged for running a ponzy scheme. Ramirez deduces that these crimes are the reason the Devil is killing them.

Yes, apparently some random man killing himself provided the chance for the Devil to take mortal form and lay down judgement upon an assortment of white collar criminals. Beelebub must be getting frail in his old age. C'mon man, what happened to raging war against God, and getting humanity banished from paradise? You're the embodiment of pain, torment and punishment, and you're taking time out of your busy schedule of torture and eternal horrors to take care of shit the Better Business Bureau would handle? Laaaaaaame.

The lights go off again (Anyone else noticing a pattern here? It's like somebody dies every time there's an exposition dump) and Dwight falls to his death trying to go down the elevator shaft. Also there are apparently bats in the shaft. This building really needs to inspect their equipment more often. And while that happens there's another scuffle and they find Old Woman dead, hung from some of the cable in the roof of the elevator.

My question is why nobody asks how this was accomplished. Despite what they show you in television, dying by hanging usually takes a few minutes, and the lights were only out for about 30 seconds. There's also the question of why they would hang her rather than just slit her throat with the numerous large pieces of glass on the floor. And if they had strangled her and THEN hung her up there, how would they have managed to do that so quickly? This is the kind of bullshit that makes me gawk at how stupid film makers seem to think people are. We KNOW that something is wrong with how she died, which makes the twist at the end all the easier to see.

But for the 3 remaining characters there's no time to think rationally about all this. Instead they just start trying to blame each other for the deaths and yada yada yada I hate these people and want them to die. The cops find out that the security company is owned by Younger Woman's husband, who she was planning to divorce in order to get half his stuff. This leads them to believe that BSG was hired by the husband to kill Younger Woman, and had been killing the others to make it look like a serial killer.

But then, the lights go off AGAIN
and BSG dies!
And thus it's just Younger Woman and White Guy. Cop #1 has come to believe Ramirez' bullshit about Satanic Jelly or some shit, and thinks that White Guy, who's the only one who didn't sign in at the front desk, is the Devil in disguise. The lights go out again and Younger Woman is killed. So it looks like they were right. But then, White Guy's girlfriend shows up at the building and says he was here for a job interview!
Then, they discover that he DID sign in. You see, they had believed Old Woman had signed in under the name Jan Kowski, but as it turns out, White Guy's last name was Jankowski!
And it turns out Old Woman was the Devil all along!
The Devil then rises up and starts mocking White Guy for trying to say he's sorry for the bad things he's done in his past. This is where it's revealed that White Guy, several years ago, had been drunk driving and crashed into a car killing a woman and child. This turns out to have been Cop #1's family!
White Guy admits it, says there's no way he could ever atone for what he did, and asks the Devil to take his life in exchange for the others. The Devil then says that he's shown repentance, and thus leaves.
Apparently the Devil is fine killing innocent engineers just doing their fucking job, but drunk driving assholes who avoided punishment and kept it a secret for years are perfectly fine as long as the say they're really, really sorry man.

So White Guy gets arrested for the hit and run, Cop #1 has learned the magic of forgiveness, and Ramirez goes back to his day-to-day life of dousing himself in holy water every time the batteries fall out the bottom of the remote.

This movie is just...the perfect storm of so-bad-it's-good. The premise from the get go sound like a parody of a horror movie premise than anything anybody would ever seriously write. The actors are in way over their heads, and their static, serious delivery of the typical M. Night Shyamalan brand dialogue makes every minute of this film unintentionally hilarious. The cinematography is amateurish and poorly directed, with strange camera angles and effects used without any meaning or intention behind them. It's by no means a good movie, but it's ineptitude makes it incredibly entertaining, I'd recommend watching and riffing it with friends.

Final Score: 4/10

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