September 24, 2010 / 6:37 AM / 9 years ago

"Devil" more hyperbolic than diabolical

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There’s an old belief in TV series production circles that if you’re doing a stuck-in-an-elevator episode before Season 4, it’s a telltale sign you’ve run fresh out of ideas.

Enter “Devil,” an uninspired, talky thriller from a story by — but not written or directed by — M. Night Shyamalan about five strangers in a stalled elevator with Satan hiding among them.

Although the 80-minute production is a feature film, there’s an inescapable ‘80s and ‘90s small-screen anthology vibe to the entire enterprise, bringing to mind “Tales From the Crypt” or “The Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” revivals.

But the picture’s major sin, while not totally shafting those in the market for a chilling ride, is that it’s ultimately more corny than creepy.

The first in a Shyamalan-produced anthology titled “The Night Chronicles” — the next one, “Reincarnate,” has “The Last Exorcism’s” Daniel Stamm attached to direct — “Devil” is set extensively in an office tower, where a methodical Philadelphia homicide detective (Chris Messina) already has been dispatched to investigate a suspicious suicide.

He soon has his hands full when an elevator carrying five passengers, each obnoxious in his or her own special way, stalls on its way up from the lobby, with a nasty fate awaiting one of them every time the lights go out.

They include a claustrophobic, temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine) with a menacing streak, an abrasive older woman (Jenny O’Hara), a smug salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a secretive war veteran (Logan Marshall-Green) and a caustic young woman (Bojana Novakovic) with a big chip on her shoulder.

Meanwhile, helplessly observing the ensuing unpleasantness on a surveillance screen is a building security guard (Matt Craven) and his devout Latino colleague (Jacob Vargas), who knows the devil’s work when his sees it.

Director John Erick Dowdle (“Quarantine”) rises to the challenge of having to work in a confined space, but though the didactic, stagy script is credited to Brian Nelson (“Hard Candy”), Shyamalan’s distinctive voice comes through loud and clear.

At least it shows some admirable restraint by not having the hellevator get stuck on the 13th floor.

But if the devil is in the details, then, for all the flickering light and bumps in the dark, a foreboding Hitchcockian score by Fernando Velazquez and an impressively grounded performance by Messina, the film overlooked one crucial consideration: the scare factor.

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