I'm planning to sit down at some point and make a list of all the horror movies I watched throughout October - fortunately, my Netflix viewing history will help fill in a lot of it! One of those movies was Devil, which I'd seen listed on Netflix before but passed up because the premise was so ridiculous.
Five people are stuck in an elevator. A police detective on the case must hurry to get them out, because one of the people is the devil. Yup.
But, it was October, and I knew I wanted to watch some horror movies I hadn't already seen, so I decided to give it a try.
The movie is written (but not directed) by M. Night Shyamalan. It definitely shows. Full disclosure: I do like many of his movies, including some that were panned by critics. But it drives me nuts that he always needs to have this huge twist close to the end. The twist was really well done in "The Sixth Sense" but felt a little strained in some of his other movies.
Shyamalan also frequently uses two literary elements in combination - these two elements contradict each other, which is how he is able to lead up to the twist. This might be why some of his other movies, although I enjoyed them, felt much more predictable than "The Sixth Sense" - I've seen enough of his movies to be onto the toolkit he's using.
The first element is the "red herring": I would imagine most people have heard this term. It is an element of the story that seems to be crucial and allows the characters (and audience) to solve the mystery, when it is actually simply a distraction from the real truth. In some cases, it is the opposite of what is actually true. In others, it is simply another potential version of the truth that turns out to be incorrect. The point is that the red herrings are meant to distract you, not only from the actual truth, but from Shyamalan's other favorite tool: Chekhov's gun.
Anton Chekhov was a writer of both short stories and plays, though he was also a physician. His comment on this dual life was that "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress." He first starting writing as a way to make money, but then began to enjoy it and started honing his craft. One of his many contributions to literature is what has become known as Chekhov's gun.
Chekhov did not believe in unnecessary details. He felt that any information given in a story, or any prop on the stage of a play, should be essential to the story. His example was that if the writer describes a shotgun hanging above the fireplace (or if a loaded gun is on stage during a play), someone had better fire that gun in the story. If the gun will never be used, there is no point in taking the time to describe it (or show it) to the reader (or audience).
In Shyamalan's work, the "gun" is usually a small element, introduced early in the story, as simply a fact about the character or even an event that happened before the start of the story that later on becomes the key to solving the mystery.
Despite knowing what tricks Shyamalan had up his sleeve, I'll admit that I actually did enjoy "Devil". I'm not sure if I'd truly consider it a horror movie, though I can see why it was classified that way. There are a few points in the story where the movie tries to be scary (and sometimes, it is effective). But I'd consider this movie to be a mystery-thriller with supernatural elements.
Overall, I'd recommend checking this movie out, especially if:
1) you're a fan of Shyamalan's work
2) you want to watch a horror movie (or your friend/roommate/significant other wants to watch a horror movie) but you don't really want to be scared
3) you like mysteries, but can also suspend disbelief (especially if you don't believe in the supernatural)