My reviews often contain spoilers. So consider yourself warned.
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I was never a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan. I thought The Sixth Sense was a competent crackerjack thriller with a well done twist, but it fails the true test for me – on repeated viewings I found it rather dull. Signs was even more problematic, and The Happening was so inept I am convinced it was conceived as a comedy. My favorite film by the director is The Village, which I believe to be his most satisfying and poignant work. And I am not an M. Night hater either – I certainly have never booed when his name appeared onscreen, as seems to be in vogue these days. Though he did not direct this film (that would be John Erick Dowdle who did Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes) his fingerprints are all over it. He came up with the original story and he produced it, but beyond that the film just has an M. Night feel to it.
The film begins with an unnecessary voice over – we are told by someone about a story they were told by their mother told as a child – a story about the devil. Sometimes the devil takes human form, you see, to torment the damned on earth before spiriting away with their souls. This is known as “The Devil’s Meeting.”
The opening credits are quite spectacular, with the camera dipping and gliding through an upside down city (it is supposed to be Philadelphia but is actually Toronto) to thunderous orchestration. The great Tak Fujimoto filmed this and he doesn’t let us down.
The old wives tale re-teller goes on to inform us that according to the story a suicide paves that way for the devil’s appearance, and wouldn’t you know it, someone jumps from a skyscraper to their death. We later find that the jumper left a note that says: I can hear the devil’s footsteps drawn near. Now, by offing himself wouldn’t this person just be speeding their way straight to hell? Suicide being one of the cardinal big no-no’s and all. Maybe he wanted to get to hell fast, while he knew the devil wouldn’t be home? Or is clutching a Rosary when you take your own life some kind of Get Out Of Hell free thing?
I digress. The suicide brings our appropriately tragic and tortured yet recently recovering detective who-is-doing-fine-now-thank-you to the scene.
Inside the building five people get into an elevator, which proceeds to become stuck between floors. We have all of our usual suspects represented: a claustrophobic black security guard, a guy that looks like a hood, an elderly woman, a pretty young girl, and a mattress salesman who serves as quasi-comic relief. And one of them is… guess who.
The lights keep flickering on and off, everyone is getting on edge, all attempts to restart the elevator fails, and the pretty young girl gets “bitten” during on of the blackouts. When a call about the possible assault comes, our detective responds since he is right outside.
Now we meet our super-wise super-religious security guards, voice of the voice overs, who of course everyone thinks is a total crackpot, but is really the only one who knows what is going on. As soon as he hears the word suicide, his face gets all somber and concerned and he starts thinking DEVIL, DEVIL, DEVIL. Evil is a-brewin’ and he’s going to be able to say he a-knew it.
Back inside the elevator tensions flare, accusations fly, paranoia grows, and the possible assault becomes a definite homicide. Through the detective’s investigating we find out who the people on the elevator are, and what they are doing in the building… and none of it is charity work, let me tell you.
The script doesn’t always play by its own rules – the guard tells us that his mother’s story always ended with the death of all those trapped, yet one of the five in the elevator is not taken by the devil because they confess their sins. And where did that walkie talkie come from? Another complaint is that Caroline Dhavernas, the quirky, wildly talented actress who I first noticed on the short-lived Fox series Wonderfalls, is given all of five lines here. What the hell? She got to say more to inanimate objects on that show than she gets to talk here.
I did like the atmosphere of this movie – the look, the music, the storm that comes swirling into the city with the building at its epicenter. And while the characters are cliche, they have a little more moxie than you’d expect and are not as exasperating as they could have been.
The film greatly benefits from a brisk run time, and despite its confess-your-sins-and-you’ll-survive sermon, I was sucked in and found myself actually involved, and yes, now I’ll confess, even moved. B