Devil

Released: 2010
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green
Written by: Brian Nelson (screenplay), M. Night Shyamalan (story)
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Music: Fernando Velázquez

Music Comes to Mind

A memorable music score comes to mind the instant I hear this movie title. I hear that vicious “duh-duh-duh-duh” melody, ripped right off an orchestral string. Pizzicato strumming away an ominous theme. The wind instruments blasting deep chords of danger. Staccato replaces the plucking, then longer bow strides and tremolo create tension. All melodies that introduce themselves individually blend together in the climatic opening credits.

At 1:53 in the video link below, mystery unravels in music. A strong drum followed by short staccato notes then this smooth, unsettling violin. At 3:08, we get this evil wind chord and then the orchestra turns their bows on their backs to pound out this teethy sequence. The string instruments pick up a quick rhythm to swing us back into a thrilling mood. A fermata on the downbeat and we’ve struck another momentary climax.

The “Rescue” track is brilliant. It’s only 51 seconds of emotionally invigorating justice haunted by the supernatural occurrences that took place in that elevator. This crescendoing track peaked at just the right note. Transfer the song to the scene, and the emotion invoked by this intensifying 51 seconds moved me to surrender to fear. Because justice was not served to the devil.

Probably one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. Here’s a composer who knows his way around an orchestra, and utilizes every instrument’s strength to create this treacherous, unforgettable score. Velázquez composed a soundtrack with so many well-executed orchestral techniques in horror. Masterful eeriness fused with dramatic flare. A score an M. Night movie deserves.

Chilling Bedtime Story

The story of Devil opens with narration, which is usually a turn off. Narration is often the lazy way of telling what can be shown. In this movie, the narration is a story given in pieces at precisely the right time. It’s a chilling opening: “When I was a child, my mother would tell me a story about how the Devil roams the Earth. Sometimes, she said, he would take human form so he could punish the damned on Earth before claiming their souls. The ones he chose would be gathered together and tortured as he hid amongst them, pretending to be one of them. I always believed my mother was telling me an old wives’ tale.” Cue Velázquez’s “Devil” track, and you’ve got one hell of a hook.

The narration continues throughout the movie as told by the guard Ramirez (above). Bits of this bedtime story his mother would tell him acting as little cliffhangers in the plotline. It sets the film in an unsettling mood the way a ghost story would; and honestly, I don’t know if the movie would have been complete without it.

Setting

A common fear amongst many is being stuck in an elevator that could potentially plunge us to our death. Not only are our five characters trapped in an elevator, suspended twenty floors up, but one by one they’re being murdered. The best part about this situation is the paradox that within this controlled
environment, the characters have absolutely no control whatsoever. The lights begin to flicker, and after the first attack, they know what it means, but they still have no way to prevent the inevitable when the lights go out. Without knowing who the killer is, without being able to see to fight, they’re defenseless.

And though our characters are stuck in an elevator, we as the audience are carried throughout the building through the perspectives of the detective, the security guards, and the maintenance guy, Dwight. We travel with Detective Bowden up to see where the suicide victim in the opening scene jumped, thus by religious standings inviting the devil into the building. We see Dwight in the elevator shaft. We watch the security guards observe the stalled elevator. The multiple points of view create a wholesome environment.

Real Terror

My favorite part of the movie is how realistic it is. Everyone knows realism amplifies our connection to stories. The closer it is to being real, the more likely it is to happen, the more we relate to it. Horror can be one of those genres that disconnect the audience from their fear if the antagonist or the setting or other details are too far-fetched. Religious horror is one of those genres especially because you’re suggesting ethereal beings still unverified by the majority. But Devil features only hints at the villain being the devil, and for only about two minutes of the entire film are we convinced by Ramirez’s religious teachings. The rest of the movie we’re following Bowden’s non-religious leads, and because of Bowden’s confidence, we’re certain for an hour that the killer is human with criminal motive.

The characters themselves are realistic as well. They’re people you would bump into on the street. Writing them as everyday anybodies develops a connection between us as ordinary people, which translates in our subconscious to: that could be us in that elevator. Chosen just as they were.

Chris Messina’s character (Bowden) impressed me the most. Detective Bowden’s composure and control of the crime scene is realistic. From this detective branches practical solutions to what’s occurring in the elevator. And despite Ramirez’s ranting about the devil being the suspect, Bowden remains sensible
in assuming it’s a flaw in humanity that’s killing the victims. Exactly what a real-world detective would do, and the complete opposite reaction of a Hollywood detective.

Back to setting, the building in which the elevator is stuck is an every day business building that people work and frequent. The elevator itself is relatable. Everyone has been in an elevator, so we can all connect to how claustrophobic the characters feel, and we can imagine their terror when being picked off one by one with no escape.

To be a little Christian here, what Ramirez preached about the devil was true too. The devil hides in his surroundings, often disguising himself as innocent. He also wants you to “doubt everything”, which is what Bowden does after his leads fall through. Realistic again, Mr. Shyamalan.

Twists

M. Night Shyamalan has a way about blindsiding us with twists, and this whole full circle with sin plot did just that. No spoilers, but Ramirez had it right telling Detective Bowden, “There’s a reason we’re the audience.”

I loved how quickly my sympathy for the characters diminished when Bowden uncovered their rapsheets. All of a sudden, I lost pity for the deceased, and I felt no fear for the next victim. Even though I’m a Christian who offers and seeks forgiveness often, M. Night’s writing subconsciously convinced me his characters deserved to meet the devil. All I felt was anticipation to find out who was next and how it would end. M. Night wrote that manipulation into my heart.

Scare Tactic

Blacking out a movie screen is a cheap shot in horror, in my opinion. Usually it feels like Hollywood’s pathetic way of scaring us with the dark, skipping out on cosmetic expenses and creativity.

But in this movie, the lights flickering out engaged our auditory sense. Hearing the glass breaking, skin squelching, blood gushing, feet banging against the elevator wall. It was terrifying.

The suspense of those few blacked out seconds was emotionally arousing. The most memorable of the deaths was the hanged victim. When the lights came back up after that one, Bowden and the guards recoiled in shock same as I did. It was a universal response of surprise, and I loved it.

Devil, Signs, and The Sixth Sense are still to this day my favorite M. Night Shyamalan movies. In that order.

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