Monday, September 20th, 2010

Horror Chick: 'Devil': The Further Fall of the House of M. Night Shyamalan

OYYou don't see a horror movie to have a nice time. You don't go to lace fingers with your sweetie and laugh at the witty repartee and sniffle into your shirtsleeve during the climactic emotional breakthroughs and gradually be lulled into halcyon repose filled with reassurance that humanity is all roses and puppies and gold lamé jumpsuits. You go to have your consciousness assaulted, your moral grounding questioned, and your niggling suspicion that our species is teetering on the edge of total depravity confirmed. You go to be right-hooked out of the day-to-day complacency of post-industrial Western life. And above all, you go to have your motherf&%#ing balls scared off.

Which is why it's so exciting when a horror film touches on that rarest of achievements-a unique, truly scary cinematic moment. And why it's so eye-gouge-ingly frustrating when the filmmaker chickens out and ruins that moment by upending a full Port-a-Potty of religious BS on top of it.

But before we get into religious ruination, let's talk about M. Night Shyamalan. There's no way to discuss Devil without first noting that he's involved with this movie. It's like the STD convo on the third date-there's just no moving forward until it's addressed.

If anything, the Shyamster is a perfect example of the fragility of modern reputations. He's like the poster child for creative destruction. I'm not going to dissect the awfulness of each of his last umpteen cinematic calamities-suffice it to say the entire collective consciousness agrees they sucked beyond the bounds of comprehension.

Still, in defense of Sir Shyamalot, I will say that in most of his movies, hidden somewhere in the pulpy depths of eye-gouging dialogue and fecal plotlines, there is usually an intriguing idea. Take The Happening-yes, watching it was a bit like having your liver munched by zombie crows. But there was something raw and amazing about those first few scenes-the notion of masses of human beings completely losing their will to survive. It's fascinatingly counterintuitive, and most importantly, it hadn't been done to death, and was memorable.

Of course, it all typically goes to sh#t somewhere around 15 minutes in, when his characters start uttering lines like, "Why don't you suck a butt" as an attempt to establish background. Somewhere in the writing process, rubbish starts to flow from his pen like raw sewage from a Staten Island treatment plant. (And don't even get me started on the mandatory ‘Cameo in His Own Films' rule-and yes, it pisses me off when Tarantino does it too.)

Which brings us to Devil. ShyamSuperman didn't direct it-that honor went to John Eric Dowdle, whose resume includes Quarantine, a decent remake of the Spanish zombie film REC. In particular, Dowdle plays well with the dark-how it tricks our perception, alters our sense of reality, and generally scares the crap out of us. But M. Night did nab writing and producing credits-and slapping "From M. Night Shyamalan" on the trailer was enough to elicit groans and catcalls from the sold-out crowd when it played before Inception. As with all Shyamalan projects, it has a promising premise-five people are trapped in an elevator, and one of them gets murderous. Add moments of electrical-failure darkness, and you've got a situation of squirm-worthy pressure and fear. Which is EXACTLY where we want a good horror movie to go.

Except then Dowdle and his puppetmaster totally puss-er, uh, chicken out-or, more accurately, they assume the AUDIENCE will chicken out and be incapable of handling the situation they've oh-so-masterfully created. So at the moments of unbearable tension and horror (the gruesome death of the first victim, the awful confrontation when just (no spoilers!) x number people are left) the film flitters off into some preternatural mess where security guards are muttering prayers in Spanish and the flaccid husband from Julie & Julia is blubbering about his dead son.

And therein lies the crucial Shyamalan mistake: Rather than simply give us a basic, uncomplicated, and yet completely scary premise-people trapped in a tight, enclosed space with a homicidal monster-he has to mix in a fetid grab-bag of various supernatural explanations-or, in this case, silly Biblical dogma. Blah blah it's really SATAN in the elevator and he's here to punish your unconfessed sins blah blah blah yawn. Little matter that the non-supernatural idea-that you could get stuck in an elevator with a psychopathic murderer-is both highly possible and a relatively universal fear, and therefore works perfectly well on its own.

No, somehow Shyamalan and his enablers assume we want-no, NEED-the idea of a spectral chassis of evil, that we cling to the standard lore of a Devil because it's more appealing than the truth, which is that evil is a vast universe of moral relativisms and perspectives, and that one man's heroism in Afghanistan may have created five orphans that will grow up viewing him and his blond, corn-fed brethren as the embodiments of amoral vileness.

No, in Shyamster's world, a big scary Satan with all-black eyes and evil goals is easier for moviegoers to swallow-and apparently more appealing than an actual flesh and blood human with no capacity to care whether you're uninterested in being murdered today. No, real people can't fly through high rises in Downtown Philly and magically short out electrical wiring and make toast fall jelly-side down (seriously-this is a plot point). No, these things can only be done by the Devil himself, and he will come to punish you for your lack of self-awareness and failure to take personal responsibility for your actions and, most of all, your UNFAIR MEAN NASTY CRITICISM OF UNAPPRECIATED FILMMAKERS WHO HAD SUCH BRILLIANT DEBUTS I MEAN YOU TOTALLY LOVED SIXTH SENSE DON'T EVEN LIE SO WHY DON'T YOU ASSH&*#ES LOVE ME ANYMORE AAAAHHHHHGGGHH?????

Um, yeah, I'll take the murderer-inhabited steel box any day.

Melissa Lafsky has had it with these @*&% snakes on this @*&% plane.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

barnhouse (#1,326)

YAY "spectral chassis of evil" how can I work this spectacular phrase into ordinary conversation? Also, I can't tell from the review whether this movie is as terrible as Signs (the last one I saw.) Is it as avoid-at-all-costs as that one?

AwkwardStrategy (#6,845)

You could always just use it to describe Hummers and Bentleys…

innag (#7,189)

"Fecal plotlines" – can I borrow that one? F%*&^ng brilliant. I haven't seen the movie, but I quit Shyamalan cold turkey after the pale chick under Giamatti's sink fiasco.

dado (#102)

Mandatory cameos are almost as bad as real life couple co-stars.

heroofthebeach (#2,280)

Oh, come on, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were always great together.

Mount_Prion (#290)

I bet the old ladies on the treadmill at my gym who sit there bitching about their fears of being trapped in an elevator with an unruly dog would be HORRIFIED of this.

I mean, it's a good target audience.

HiredGoons (#603)

'The Happening' needed more berets and bongos.

SourCapote (#4,872)

less mark wahlberg

HiredGoons (#603)

"they assume the AUDIENCE will chicken out and be incapable of handling the situation they've oh-so-masterfully created."

I completely agree. You know what movie I can barely watch because it gets me so tense and uncomfortable? 'Rope' – and NOTHING happens.

People need to remember that 'ideas' are where true fear comes from.

BadUncle (#153)

Go, cat, go.

HiredGoons (#603)

*snaps fingers thrice

SourCapote (#4,872)

yeah Rope probably couldn't sell today


mrschem (#1,757)

Yep. Its what's unseen that truly terrifies.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

"ShyamSuperman" should have been "Shy'mTheGodDamnBatman." Otherwise note-perfect.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Or "ShyamSpartacus"?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)


DoctorDisaster (#1,970)


boyofdestiny (#1,243)

The script was written in Shyambic pentameter.

Horror Chick (#1,677)

AHAHAHAHA LOVE!!!! oh thank God for you fellow English lit nerds. Bless you in all your iambic glory.

innag (#7,189)


Pants McCracky (#2,292)

Who could have anticipated that a movie called "Devil" would have supernatural themes? It's like when I saw "Gandhi" and the whole thing was just about some skinny dude in a loincloth.

iantenna (#5,160)

MOE BANDY! yes! is that the cover of "i just started hatin' cheatin' songs today"? the 70s greatest honky-tonker. sorry, this whole reply is apropos of nothing but dude's avatar.

HiredGoons (#603)

Oh, and Chris Messina is a BABE.

So is Night's cameo in this as the devil? Cause he would look awesome in a red satin suit with a pitch fork.

Not planning on seeing this, but I will say supernatural stuff, religious themes, etc. when done well scare the shit out of me. I don't know why, but mystical things, secret societies, etc. have always been extremely fascinating and I'd probably rather watch something with that angle than "crazy guy in an elevator." That said, it needs to be done well or it turns out like a Dan Brown novel, and I'd rather see "crazy guy in an elevator." I'm guessing M. Night didn't quite get it right? Shame.

roboloki (#1,724)

m. night shamealan

HiredGoons (#603)

M. Night Shamalamadingdong

PropSword (#2,870)

@HiredGoons I use the Ding Dong one every time I bring him up. <3

chevre4evre (#3,871)

My thoughts during the preview: Oh my god. Trapped in an elevator when it stops. And then the lights go out. And then someone dies. That is the most terrifying premise for a film that I have eve…oh, it's the devil. Nevermind, next preview please.
In other words, I haven't seen the movie but I concur.

Elevator horror movies are actually a burgeoning subgenre! Off the top of my head, I'm counting "The Lift," "The Shaft," "Hellevator: Bottled Fools" … unfortunately, as you point out, they can never resist the urge to gild the lily and always end up adding crappy supernatural stuff. Eh.

scrooge (#2,697)

Maybe if he'd called it "Sixth Floor".

@chevre: Apparently, there's a 2007 film called "Blackout" that eschews the supernatural bit. The setup involves three people trapped in an elevator during the titular blackout; one of them is a serial killer. I haven't seen it, but hey, there's that.

chevre4evre (#3,871)

@Gef: Thanks for the research. I might check that out. With all the lights on. And friends nearby.

I don't care for guts and gore, but bring on the psychological thriller. I think the scariest scene in a movie for me was when Jodie Foster was in the basement in the dark during Silence of Lambs. I KNEW they weren't going to kill Jodie Foster and I was still in the fetal position. Maybe I'm just scared of the dark. So a blacked-out, stuck elevator just sounds horrifying.

I've seen "Blackout". Like "Devil", it's a promising premise with an excruciatingly terrible in execution (and also, Amber Tamblyn looking embarrassed to be involved. Which she should be.)

I think the best claustrophobic horror in recent years is "The Descent", but it's not for the weak-stomached.

"The Descent" is a nasty piece of work, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Michelle Moody (#7,530)

Hmmm…so I'm guessing you're more of a Saw kinda gal? Seriously, no one remembers horror for what it was. Not a ton of blood and catchemkillem slash, but suspense and thought and fear. Why does Night take the spiritual route? Maybe because it has been well established that there are killers and psychos all around us. What we don't know is what may or may not lie beyond. That is a fun area to explore.

Night continues to pack houses so maybe the biggest fear is breaking away from the hate herd (which requires independent thought)and admitting that a Shyamalan film (produced or directed) is a very good and creative thing indeed.

Night, did you just type all that with one hand?

Coincidentally, "Hate Herd" is the title of Shyamalan's next movie.

roboloki (#1,724)

it's about a group of teabaggers stuck in an elevator with bill maher.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Facebook = facepalm.

LondonLee (#922)

M. Knight Shyamalan is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

HiredGoons (#603)

OMG this was serious.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

I like a mix of the two like in Birth or Ils.

djfreshie (#875)

I had totally forgotten there are Killers and Psychos all around us, and now I can't stop thinking about it.

Michelle Moody (#7,530)

As serious as an acronym.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I was in the supermarket the other day and the Killers came on, and I totally said to myself, "I would rather be in an M. Night Shyamalan movie than listen to this."

Michelle Moody (#7,530)

Well, you can continue to pile on the frowns because I fancy the Killers as well as Shyamalan…maybe I should join a support group for fans of unpopular concepts/people.

AwkwardStrategy (#6,845)

So, I haven't seen it yet, but here is how it *should* end. With three people left in the elevator, two are convinced that the third is the murderer. They kill him to protect themselves.

Of course, shortly after it is revealed that on of the two is the homicidal maniac. He gives the "Psycho" stare and proceeds to murder the final elevator passenger. With a pool of blood on the elevator floor, the lights flicker off for two seconds, come back on with the man having vanished.

Roll credits.

Commence hack writing comments :P

melis (#1,854)

Man, for a minute I thought you were hating on Stanley Tucci (re: flaccid h. from Julie & Julia), and I was prepared to TAKE YOU APART.

Horror Chick (#1,677)

No part of Stanley Tucci was flaccid in that movie. The same cannot be said of Amy Adams's dull-as-rocks mate.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Agreed. Stanley Tucci was almost bizarrely sexy in Julie & Julia

Sproing (#561)

THIRD date?

I need to start saying "why don't you suck a butt" more.

ShowIdeez (#7,574)

The concept that the devil would be in the elevator killing 4 people is stupid. We're not talking some random demon. The #1 bad guy, fallen angel, evil incarnate, is so bored that it decides to kill a few people in an elevator while flicking off lights. Maybe when the devil is done it can kill a hundred people in a movie theater watching nonsense.

There's a security guard that obviously believe that its the devil killing people in this elevator & that guard remains at work watching the security footage. That's believable.

erikonymous (#3,231)

"No, somehow Shyamalan and his enablers assume we want-no, NEED-the idea of a spectral chassis of evil, that we cling to the standard lore of a Devil because it's more appealing than the truth, which is that evil is a vast universe of moral relativisms and perspectives, and that one man's heroism in Afghanistan may have created five orphans that will grow up viewing him and his blond, corn-fed brethren as the embodiments of amoral vileness."


Also, this movie sounds like an unnecessary perversion of the awesome parlor game Mafia, which should really be made into a movie at some point.

@erikonymous: On the other hand, here's a totally unnecessary perversion of Mafia that looks frickin' awesome.

erikonymous (#3,231)

correction: that looks like a totally NECESSARY perversion of Mafia. I've been out of video games for a good while, but SpyParty looks like it could definitely pull me back in, from the cold, as it were.
thanks for the tip!

Post a Comment