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Devil (also known as The Night Chronicles: Devil) is a 2010 American supernatural horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Brian Nelson based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan. The film stars Chris Messina, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara and Geoffrey Arend. Devil was released on September 17, 2010, and is the first of The Night Chronicles trilogy, which involves the supernatural within modern urban society. Devil opened at the number three spot in the box office opening weekend, taking in a total of $12 million. Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) speaks in a voice-over about stories that his mother told him about the Devil sometimes actively seeking out individuals who have sinned, while they're still alive on Earth. While taking human form, he traps them in a confined place only to turn them against each other, before killing them one at a time. Ramirez explains that the last victim will die in front of his or her loved one to make cynics of them all, and in the end, all will die. He says that the signs are set in motion with a suicide, as that is when the Devil first makes his presence known.
The extended opening shots over the city's skyline promise that the natural order of things has been upended, presented as it is upside-down. Gleaming business district spires stab downward while Fernando Veláquez's score (a hyped-up, half-effective attempt to do Bernard Herrmann by way of Hans Zimmer) howls. Because, according to the narrator, it always begins with a suicide, we're given the sight of a man plummeting out of the top of a tower and crashing into a truck on a quiet street. The detective sent to investigate, Bowden (Chris Messina) - who first appears having breakfast with his AA sponsor, referencing forgiveness and the death of his family some years before so heavily that the lines may as well be covered in yellow highlighter - starts nosing around in the building itself.
Inside, five people of mostly equally ugly dispositions have been trapped in an elevator. Though this would provide most writers with an opportunity for some snappy exchanges and thumbnail character studies, Brian Nelson misses the chance almost completely. Instead, the workings of the supernatural come almost immediately into play as the five - a security guard, a smarmy salesman, a quiet tough guy and two women differentiated mostly by one being old and the other young - start panicking after the lights go out and one of the women finds herself with an unexplained bloody wound on her back. As the hapless security guards and maintenance man try to fix the problem (it seems a woefully understaffed building), things deteriorate inside the elevator. Then the lights flicker off again, a shattering of glass is heard, and when they come back on, somebody is dead.
If Nelson, writing from an idea by Shyamalan, could have come up with any memorable dialogue for these sequences, they might have formed a sophisticated and dark little fable along the lines of his Hard Candy. But as it is, almost all the character development is supplied by Bowden, who digs up each of the five's background and serves as the story's chief expositor - that is, when he's not trying to stop the security guard from clutching his crucifix and praying. "I don't believe in the devil," Bowden growls in the voice of the fallen disbeliever just itching to be converted back to the faith, "We don't need him." It's a credit to Messina that he can bring enough nerve and conviction to the role to make lines like this seem even partially credible.
Like so many of Shyamlan's stories, this one hinges almost entirely on themes of faith and sin (witness Signs, in particular). In the end, it's not giving too much to say that the lessons learned (highly bloody or not) will not be that dissimilar from those disseminated in Sunday schools across the land. As to whether the multiplex is the right place for such educational fables to be played out? Well, the devil works in mysterious ways.