M.Night Shyamalan returns with a movie that doesn't completely blow

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Movie Review: Devil


Movie Review: Devil

You’ve gotta feel sorry for M.Night Shyamalan. Picture the scene: it’s 1999, you’re writing and directing The Sixth Sense, getting nominated for six Academy Awards in the process, Mel Gibson won’t stop ringing and inviting you round to get drunk, read The Bible and invent new swearwords.

Then nine years later you sign off The Happening, everyone thinks its fuckopulucunt (Mel came up with that one), you spend your days fending off folk running up to you in the street shouting, “oooh, the trees, I’m so scared of their leaves! AGGGH! AN ACORN!”

Even in a world that sits upon soil fertilized by the tears of Corey Feldman, that’s quite the fall from grace.

Then there’s the urban craze – designed to mock, and which I invented around about six seconds ago – of ‘doing a Shyamalan’. This involves telling someone something banal, then giving the utterance a twist at the end of the sentence. For example: if I were to say to you, “Hey, how are you doing today, would you like a cup of tea… or coffee?” Or, “It’s been a really long day today, I might have a shower later… or a bath”. Or – and this is my personal favourite – “Hey, it appears your dog is dead… no it’s not”, then that would be ‘doing a Shyamalan’.

Try it! It’s fun!

But as I said, I do feel sorry for the guy. Hollywood has rarely seen such a comedic crash and burn as his – and it’s gotta be hard to take Mel practicing swearing with his ex wife rather than you. But then I’ve never thought the director was without some semblance of talent too.

Sure, after his initial purple patch of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), you can forgive moviegoers for having cracked, and consequently become bored of Shyamalan’s favoured trick of pulling the rug from the narrative (and doing a massive big shit in the face of logic) in his films’ closing scenes. But imagine if our man had got into television rather than films. From the off, more people might want to employ Mark Wahlberg than currently do.

Bear with me. Imagine if Shyamalan had got a job writing and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone – or one of the many variants of the show’s spooky mystery format that clog up digital scheduling. His talent for bite-sized pulp fiction, where the twist at the end is just as expected as the credits at the beginning are, is much more suited for TV than it is cinema – just by the nature of the medium, you can just turn over if you don’t like it.

Perhaps the problem with M. Night Shyamalan is that he thought his talent was greater than what it was and believed his hokey stories could stretch to feature length. Perhaps the problem with M.Night Shyamalan is he just overreached – sort of like Icarus with a shit perm.

Perhaps it is. The story of Devil, which Shyamalan wrote and produced as the first instalment of his The Night Chronicles trilogy – five people in a lift, one of them is the devil, but who? – is perfectly suited to an episode of the iconic late 50’s (let’s forget the 80’s version) television show.

And, like so many of that show’s best stories, it must only have cost a couple of quid to make – simple premise, simple set up – while Shyamalan and director John Erick Dowdle (who didn’t screw up Quarantine, 2008’s U.S. take on the staggeringly brilliant [REC], as much as I feared he could have) manage to craft some genuine unease from shadows and CCTV. And, while there is a twist in the tale, thankfully it’s not that the whole thing is set in a fucking national park.

(Spoilers? I sat through The Village so you didn’t have to. I ask you, who’s the one whose life has been spoilt here?)

Okay, so, just by the nature of it being a film rather than a TV show, it’s still a bit long. But it’s certainly enjoyable, diverting supernatural fluff – a bit like a lesser episode of the late, great American Gothic. It’s territory the obviously genre cinema-obsessed filmmaker seems comfortable with (unlike his recent The Last Airbender live action cartoon adaptation, which seemed like he’d only got hold of the source material on the first day of shooting), and suggests that the following Night Chronicles movies could we worth keeping an eye out for.

Maybe they could even mark out something of a road to redemption for the director… or not… but maybe… SHIT, AN ACORN!

James McMahon