Devil (review)

Ever drop your toast and despair to watch it land on the floor jelly side down? You know who’s responsible for such calamity, don’t you? Satan. It’s true. There’s a deeply religious security guard (Jacob Vargas: Death Race) in Devil who knows all about Satan and how he operates, because he has some mystical Hispanic Catholic connection to God and stuff — the crucifix he wears is enormous, for one thing — and because his mom used to tell him terrible stories about El Diablo. And it turns out he’s pretty much right about Satan’s SOP, as this preposterous waste of time goes on to demonstrate. An elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper gets stuck between floors, and then Satan proceeds to pick off the passengers, one by one, in mildly gruesome PG13 ways: there’s a black man (Bokeem Woodbine: Jasper, Texas), an old woman (Jenny O’Hara: Extract), a young woman (Bojana Novakovic: Edge of Darkness), a white guy who’s a jerk (Geoffrey Arend: An American Carol), and a white guy who seems like maybe he’s okay (Logan Marshall-Green: Brooklyn’s Finest): that’s the extent of the fleshing out the characters get. Ooo, except this: These are all actually really bad people who’ve done really bad things, so why we’re supposed to care that Satan is picking them off is the only mystery here. The script, by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night) from a story by M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender), veers from the intensely banal — I had plenty of time to wonder where the building management was in all of this, especially after the cops (led by Chris Messina’s [Julie & Julia] detective) and the fire department close down the entire city block surrounding the building — to the impossibly ludicrous: the building engineer survives an elevator falling on him! Meanwhile, director John Erick Dowdle indulges in strange cinematic experiments, such as substituting incoherence for suspense and making what it believes is a virtue out of ridiculous coincidence. Tragedy is rendered laughable, characters are crammed into psychologically absurd corners, and the poor cast has nothing to do except literally stand around and look embarrassed.

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