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Movie review: 'Devil' scare tactics hardly worth a rise

The Shyamalan-produced horror flick set in an elevator is trying to do too many things to work up any dread.

September 20, 2010|By Robert Abele, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Stick five characters into a skyscraper elevator that lurches to a halt 20 floors up, and you've maybe earned the nervous attention of claustrophobics. Make one of them the devil, and you've perhaps got the Lucifer-phobics. But what about the M. Night Shyamalan-phobics?

"Devil" is the über-confident chiller impresario's latest — this time as story-creator and producer — and the first in a projected directed-by-others trilogy of spook-outs called "The Night Chronicles." But it's also arriving in the midst of some vicious fan reappraisal after Shyamalan's terribly received "The Lady in the Water," "The Happening" and this summer's "The Last Airbender" left moviegoers wondering if his artistic fortunes are — elevator pun! — going down instead of up.

"Devil" won't resolve that debate, if only because its overall slightness as a chiller only stresses that this was material unworthy of a notorious control freak filmmaker's undivided attention. Handed the director reins, John Dowdle ("Quarantine") gamely works every atmospheric trick a cramped scenario allows, but can't turn the screenplay's many disparate parts — a mysterious suicide, electrical blackouts, flickery devil apparitions, trapped passengers turning on each other, a dedicated cop (Chris Messina) on the outside trying to help — into any kind of gathering, white-knuckle dread.

By the time the patented Shyamalan Extra-Strength Third Act Twist is revealed, being asked to care about fate, redemption and forgiveness when a satan-in-an-elevator gimmick hasn't delivered is like getting medicinal aftertaste from what should have been a box of delectably fiery Red Hots.

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