Release Date: December 2, 2010
“Everybody believes in him a little, even if they say they don’t,” mutters the security guard at the grisly scene of M. Night Shyamalan’s new film. He is talking about the devil, and I’m inclined to agree. What surprises the most, however, is what Shyamalan suggests we’re hoping Satan will do for us.
Devil is an economic film. The entire plot almost fits inside a single elevator.
Five seemingly random individuals climb into the next available car at the bottom of a skyscraper in a nameless city. On the way to their destinations, the elevator shudders to a halt. Irritation turns to anxiety, anxiety to panic, and finally fear as lives are claimed in the flickering darkness.
One of the trapped occupants is clearly a murderer, but the investigating police begin to realise that he or she might actually be the devil.
Hollywood’s biggest names – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Tim Curry – have provided varied interpretations of the devil’s character. The people trapped in Devil’s elevator are terrified, tormented, tortured by a particularly malevolent being. However we’re led to believe that it is strangely appropriate given the revelations about their characters. The detective leading the rescue discovers that they are all thieves, cheats, violent offenders and murderers – which leads to some interesting revelations about what we believe about the devil, and what we actually hope he will do for us.
The devil in Devil is ultimately only interested in evil people. When one of the elevator’s villains musters the courage to admit his faults and ask for forgiveness, the dark one bitterly relinquishes his control.
It’s a familiar theme: the devil is only the owner of evil souls. We imagine him the proprietor of a Hellish afterlife where burglars, bashers and bankers finally get what’s coming to them. And therein lies our hope. The devil is supposed to carry off the truly evil, leaving the relatively innocent scared but unscathed.
Devil’s devil is in fact a moral figure that ultimately delivers justice – even if it is the kind dispensed by a savage guard dog. Yet there is an infinite distance between this devil and the Bible’s ‘prince of this world’.
Unlike Shyamalan’s devil who actually reflects a twisted morality, the Bible’s Satan is not interested in justice. Time and again we see him accusing, tempting, possessing, deceiving. He is the ‘ravening lion’ of Peter’s epistle, not conniving soul-catcher of Bedazzled or Angel Heart. His aim is a simple and petulant one: the degradation of God’s creation.
If you wanted a good picture of his goal for humanity, you would not have to look any further than the wretched man possessed by Legion. I find it hard to credit that he would waste his time with the contents of Devil’s elevator. They are already ruined and busy ruining others.
The devil’s character is actually one from which all evidence of the Creator has been erased. And if Hell is indeed a place where every good thing is absent, then it will be peopled with many such devils. When we look into the face of cinematic Satans and see the worst scriptwriters can imagine, we actually look into a possible future. What else would someone who spent a lifetime separating his or herself from God look like?