Some of the most unsettling images in this supernatural thriller come before the action even begins. The credits roll over extended aerial shots of Philadelphia, only the cityscapes are shown upside down.
Celebrated cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, who frequently collaborated with Jonathan Demme and M.Night Shyamalan, makes expert use of the film’s claustrophobic setting to generate some good, scary moments.
On the other hand, a plausible storyline is conspicuous by its absence. Co-produced and conceptualised by Shyamalan — but not written or directed by him — the plot of Devil is pure hokum.
Five strangers are stuck in an elevator when it stalls on its way up from the lobby of an office tower. Even as a homicide detective (Messina) attempts a rescue, the trapped occupants are killed one by one every time the lights flicker out in the malfunctioning lift.
Since the deaths invariably occur in the dark, it’s difficult to make sense of what the hell is going on. Quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-moralising abound what with Satan himself suspected to be hiding among the unfortunate victims. Besides, in signature Shyamalan style, there are a couple of twists towards the climax. The acting is competent enough but Dowdle’s direction is heavy-handed, especially the use of a sub-Hitchcockian background music score.
If you’re in the mood for shrieks’n’ shudders, this hellevator is worth a ride.