Someone has just thrown themselves through a window near the top of a high rise office block, landed dead on a van, and the vehicle has rolled thanks to the impact, coming to rest in a side street. The police are called, and Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), who has recently got over his alcoholism after losing his wife and young son in a hit and run incident, is on the scene and working out what happened. Meanwhile, in the building itself people come and go oblivious to the tragedy, and five of them enter an elevator to reach their destination - but will any of them arrive?
Devil was the first in a proposed series of medium budget horror films from the mind of the much-maligned M. Night Shyamalan, he of the fondness for twist endings fame who by this stage was attracting more opprobrium than plaudits, quite a change from the praise he won for his first two movies as audiences were practically lining up to pick holes in his productions, if not buying tickets. In this case, he had conjured up the storyline and yes, it did have a twist in the tale, and produced it, handing the director's reins to John Erick Dowdle who had just before this remade the Spanish horror effort REC, not coincidentally also centred around a claustrophobic building.
Although the main premise was all over the advertising, the film itself took a lot longer to reveal its hand, though the title was something of a giveaway as to the intentions. Once those five characters enter the lift, it suffers a breakdown and stalls between floors, high up and with the muzak playing insistently to rake the nerves of the occupants. So far, so the basis of many a drama where a group set stuck in a confined space, a notion behind a lot of television episodes whether of anthology series or a long-running programme, therefore Devil was not the place to look for outright originality and freshness.
Then again, when Shyamalan endeavoured to put something on the screen that was fresh and original, he had somewhat fallen on his face because simply coming up with something untried in movies didn't guarantee you weren't going to see a very silly plot. He was evidently saving his big ideas for the works he directed himself and not the pretentiously named "Night Chronicles", which too sounded like a television show rather than a film franchise, also because they were approaching a different narrative in every instalment and not have a recurring set of characters, which was just as well when you considered what happened to most of the poor souls in this instance.
For the most part Devil, which nobody had huge expectations for, was a fair success artistically, keeping the audience guessing as to who among those trapped was up to no good, even as they are whittled away by one of their number for reasons unknown. With Shyamalan being a committed Christian, as you could have fathomed from the title there was a hefty dose of his faith's point of view, whether that be in its mythology of Satan roaming the Earth to test us - there's a voiceover which labours these points when they would be better discovered by the audience as they organically grew from the unfolding events - or the manner in which Bowden's troubled mind is brought in to play. The message, which wasn't hard to miss in light of how it was stated at the ending, was one of forgiveness, and you could observe it was all very well forgiving one character but a whole bunch of others were lying around dead not quite so fortunate. Yet when you were watching a self-admitted second division horror flick, Devil filled a reasonable gap until something better appeared. Music by Fernando Velázquez.