Ten years later it’s clear that M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil (2010) is an incredibly underrated horror film.
Some say that art, in its purest form, can elicit a wide range of emotions in the beholder. If that’s the case, then maybe there’s no more remarkable artist in the business than M. Night Shyamalan. Love or hate him, it seems no one can be indifferent to his work.
When it comes to the subject of “worst Shyamalan films,” most people would be quick to point out that The Happening or Lady in the Water are among his weakest films. However, there’s one film that’s been ridiculed for the longest time by the horror film community. A movie so misunderstood, that some people don’t even know who directed it.
We’re talking about M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil (2010) – and why it might not necessarily deserve all the bad rap it gets.
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One of the most common misconceptions about Devil is that it is “just another M. Night Shyamalan flick.” This time, however, the filmmaker wasn’t entirely responsible for the movie.
In a very unusual twist (a Shyamalanesque twist, if you will,) Shyamalan didn’t direct Devil – that responsibility falls on John Erick Dowdle, who’s best known for his work on multiple horror films such as The Poughkeepsie Tapes and As Above, So Below. It seems like claustrophobia is a usual trademark of his, which makes him the ideal guy for a movie like Devil.
That said, some parts of Shyamalan’s script might have been lost in translation between him and Dowdle. After all, Shyamalan has always been well-known for the human drama at the centre of his surreal movies. His works tend to focus on the relationship between characters rather than the action itself. And when you think of Devil, with its multiple characters dealing with varying degrees of past trauma, one can’t help but notice that the movie lacks some of Shyamalan’s signature nuance.
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A Masterclass in Tension
Where Dowdle’s talents come to shine – and decidedly elevate Shyamalan’s unsettling script – is the way he ramps up the tension. One of the most refreshing aspects of Devil is how the film doesn’t rely on jump scares to frighten the viewer. Devil is an unrelenting horrorshow of claustrophobia and uneasiness, utilizing every means possible to make us feel suffocated as we witness these five people trapped in the hells of their own minds.
Not only are these strangers trapped in an elevator with a diabolic presence: they have been trapped inside themselves for the longest time. At the end of the day, that’s just what makes Devil such a powerful horror film: in many ways, it’s about the psychological toll of being unable to break free from your darkest fears; a fear as common as the many representations of the “devil” in different cultures around the globe.
Sure, Devil also has its fair share of flaws. Who could forget the infamous scene about the toast landing butter side down because of the Devil? The ending also could be seen as one of the film’s shakiest aspects, depending on how invested you were in the main cast. But there’s an undeniable sense of charm that you can find in this flawed film that often gets ignored in favour of its faults.
Is Devil M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie? Not by a long shot. However, it would also be disingenuous to say that it is his worst film. It’s an entertaining, short horror flick that hits the right notes when it matters, delivering some of Shyamalan’s best horror writing.
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Tell us, what did you think of M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil (2010)?