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Marlowe's HDF Review of...DEVIL (Universal/Media Rights Capital/The Night Chronicles)

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Old 01-23-2011, 10:07 PM   #1
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Default Marlowe's HDF Review of...DEVIL (Universal/Media Rights Capital/The Night Chronicles)


Studio Name: Universal (Media Rights Capital/The Night Chronicles)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p 2.40:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Geoffrey Arend

Five Star Ratings:
Film Content: 2.5
Video Quality: 2.5
Sound Quality: 2
Extras Value: 3
Family Content Value: 2.5



Devil wants to be something more than it is – it strives to dip into surreal supernatural themes, but doesn’t succeed, further justifying its PG-13 rating. Actually, it plays just like an M. Night Shyamalan film always does, and even though he wasn’t in the director’s chair for this one, his influences as a co-producer and storywriter are all over the place. What does a Shyamalan film play like? Well, you know…the attempt at making a serious piece of cinema with serious subject matter and overtones that slowly collapses into soft, irrelevant and downright boring material; I never understood the appeal of this guy as a filmmaker, and everyone appears to go ga-ga over him. Sure, The Sixth Sense was intriguing and I actually needed to see it twice to get many things I missed the first time (signs of a well-executed script), but beyond that, I just can’t seem to stomach any of Night’s subsequent releases including the disappointing Signs, The Village and The Happening. The curious thing about his projects is that they all begin with somewhat great potential – the subject matter is in place for an excellent thrill ride, if executed properly. Something creepy going on in some remote farm village? That sounds cool. Some alien-type conspiracy power taking over people as Marky Mark leads a handful of survivors? Okay. Mel Gibson attempting to figure out why there are crop circles in his back yard while on TV, cameras catch glimpses of shadowy figures abducting humans? I’m on board. But yet the final products of these stories are massive letdowns, made all the more painful by a soft approach to filmmaking, in my opinion, on behalf of Shyamalan; in Devil, you can definitely feel his influence.

Again, here we had trailers that suggested something hyper-supernatural and exciting, with a group of people trapped in an elevator with supposedly some kind of evil entity. Left to someone like David Cronenberg, this may have been an out of control gore splashfest while simultaneously exhibiting psychological elements to drive the viewer to near madness; with John Erick Dowdle and Shyamalan, this plays almost like a made-for-cable Lifetime film. What I did like about this was that a group of near-nobodys was assembled to be cast, so that we didn’t have Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or even Ryan Reynolds trapped in that elevator car – it’s refreshing every now and then to watch something that doesn’t include A-list talent, and it’s what made films like Wes Craven’s Red Eye so engaging on different levels. The plot revolves around a group of apparent strangers who become trapped together in an elevator within a downtown Philadelphia building; a rough looking Caucasian man, an African-American security guard from the building, an old lady, a freaky looking mattress salesman that looks an awful lot like the late porn star Jamie Gillis and a cute professional girl. As the film proceeds and introduces characters, there is narration by one of the Latino guards sitting behind the security desk, telling the story about his mother and how she would know about the devil and when he would arrive in certain places. The narration is neither frightening nor effective in keeping up what we perceive to be a “creepy mood;” the entire thing felt very amateurish.

As the group proceeds to their floors in the elevator, it suddenly stops and they’re caught inside. The security guards watching the cameras send a maintenance guy to check out what’s going on – but the Latin guard’s narration tells us that the devil always kills anyone who tries to interfere in his plots and plans, suggesting to us this maintenance guy is going to die a horrible death. Meanwhile, inside the elevator, tempers and hostilities are rising – the lights have gone out a few times, and with each blackout, someone in the group is touched or otherwise injured. The women of the group blame the mattress salesman, who appears to be a sexist pig, and the black security guard begins looming and threatening the men to leave the women alone. One by one, the group is viciously murdered with each blackout, as we hear the swooping attacks of someone or some…thing inside that elevator car. The notion that “the devil” is killing these people in an elevator car is so riddled with irrelevant and boring sentiments, and we would just about give up on this until a ray of hope for this plot comes in the form of a quick supernatural flash of a demonic face – upon studying the played back video from the elevator’s cameras, the Latin security guard pauses the video during one of the blackouts and can make out a seething image of a demonic face superimposed over the group trapped in the elevator. Claiming this to be a sign that the devil is actually in that car, amongst the passengers – perhaps as one of the passengers themselves – the guard attempts to explain this to Philadelphia police detectives who have arrived on the scene. The notion was more entertaining than anything that had come before it so far.

Also worth mentioning is that someone apparently committed suicide out of one of the offices of this building earlier that day, in which the same detectives were dispatched to the scene of the broken, shattered glass below on the street. Now in the same building, dealing with an apparent homicidal murderer that is offing people in an elevator, the cops are sure something odd is happening here. Of course, with the warning narration we received from the Latino security guard, the maintenance guy that was dispatched to help the passengers stuck in the elevator has been killed by something and thrown onto the roof of the elevator car to the passengers’ complete horror. And still, the lights keep going out in the car, and the remainder of the passengers left are continuously attacked in the dark, until only two of them are left – which one of these are the devil? Is it even the devil doing these things? Why are these specific people being killed in this specific elevator?

These are some of the questions that can be answered by watching Devil – however, let me forewarn you: There’s a bit of a backstory to one of the characters that are left of the bunch – the hard-looking white guy – and a connection he has to the lead detective investigating what is going on in the elevator. Specifically, a connection to the cop’s family. Further, not all is what it appears to be – while the last two passengers in the elevator prepare for the ultimate fight for survival when the next blackout comes, it’s one of the other already presumed deceased passengers who shock us all with regard to a connection to Lucifer himself.

The problem with Devil – evidenced by its PG-13 rating – is its lack of substantial graphic horror and substance; sure, the notion is entertaining, but nothing really happens that allows us to really be freaked out here. The film starts off frightening enough, as tension builds while the group is stuck in the creaky elevator, and we don’t know who to trust amongst them…and neither do they. The buildup and explosion of sheer claustrophobia is perhaps the film’s best aspect, as you can actually feel yourself getting uncomfortable watching these people sweating to death in the closed in box, nowhere to go. Is this as effective as Ryan Reynolds in Buried? I don’t know. But it was unsettling here.

The concluding frame is interesting, tying together the connection between the cop and the survivor of the elevator massacre, but the twist involving “the devil” himself wasn’t explored deeply enough and could have been much better – indeed, like most films dealing with Lucifer, the angel cast out of heaven has come for a soul that deserves to be taken to hell, but this sequence isn’t explored well enough and Devil – especially given its title – suffers for it.


With the Philadelphia business district streets and building as a backdrop, Universal releases The Devil in a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that looks like most of the studio’s other releases – that is to say it’s loaded with popping colors in outdoor sequences, devoid of much film grain and delivers an overall satisfactory high def experience. Some shots of the interior of the elevator don’t show up with all that much detail, as facial close-ups and other elements appear to collapse into DVD-like quality. However, most noteworthy is the opening title sequence in which the camera pans over the city of Philadelphia upside down, showing a flip perspective of the skyline, and this is rendered with unbelievable, eye-popping detail and clarity.


The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying Devil was mediocre at best; nothing really to report here, and I must say…after watching the next film I reviewed, Machete, in both DVD and Blu-ray, the Dolby Digital lossy soundtrack of that film’s DVD version was more engaging and aggressive than that of Devil in Master Audio. Can I explain that short of the lossy compression scheme used on DVD? No.

Alas, Devil’s DTS-HD MA track was backed up by good channel separation, especially in the elevator sequences when the car went black and the passengers were being invisibly attacked…these scenes were accompanied by wooshing, rushing effects all over the soundstage, from front left to front right and then from the front to the back, with aggressive panning doing its thing. The creaking of the elevator and other effects were rendered nicely here as well, but overall, this just wasn’t memorable in terms of audio.


Pocket BLU features, BD Live features, Deleted Scenes, The Story, The Devil’s Meeting, The Night Chronicles, D-BOX Motion Enabled


This was rather forgettable; it held some good promise towards the beginning as the tension thickened between the characters and a claustrophobic mood was introduced, but in the end, I came away from it feeling like something was missing or more could have been done. The confrontation between the devil and one of the passengers he has come for was effective and should be been explored in more detail, with more graphic horror overtones and R-rated themes, but alas, because M. Night Shyamalan was involved – I am convinced – this didn’t happen, and we get a PG-13 material clause here.

Sure, the video transfer was quite solid in typical Universal fashion, but the overall package was much like the film itself, remotely compelling but otherwise forgettable.

Look for my supercharged review of the much-anticipated Danny Trejo shocker Machete next!
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