For every fan, there’s that point in M. Night Shyamalan’s career where we decided that we’ve lost faith in his ability as writer/director extraordinaire. Some say The Village was the breaking point, others say Lady In The Water or The Happening. For me it was definitely the abysmal Last Airbender. When this movie came along with its minimalist title, marquee-less casting, clever Hitchcockean premise (five people trapped in an elevator; one of them is the Devil) the fact that it was first in a series based on Shyamalan’s ideas and with his involvement (though he’s not the director) made me stay away from something I might otherwise have been first in line for. However, after the not-bad reviews came in, I was intrigued. The premise continued to win me over despite the now-tarnished Shyamalan-factor.
As you might expect from this kind of story, where different individuals are trapped in a confined space, people start to get frustrated and tense. At first, it seemed like they were all really annoying people, flying off the handle at too-slight the provocation. However, as you get the impression that something actually malevolent is influencing their behaviour, it kind of makes sense. You think you know who the devil (or if you prefer the less supernatural interpretation, the bad guy) is at various moments in the movie, but all the characters in the elevator have bad things in their past, and all of them seem to smile inappropriately for a glimmer when they think there’s no one looking. These are probably five of the most entertainingly unsettling individuals you’d meet in an elevator.
As events start to escalate, inside and outside the elevator, you start to feel like you want the people to be rescued so you can get relief from the tension and suspense, but you also want the events to play out so that you can learn the truth. This movie is actually less confined than you’d expect. It’s not entirely the five individuals talking and interacting with each other. Half the time is spent on the outside, at first with building security men monitoring the surveillance cameras and coordinating the repairs, but when the police arrive we spend a lot of time with the lead detective (played by Chris Messina, remember him as the long-suffering boyfriend to Amy Adams’s culinary blogger in Julie and Julia?).
At first I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a supernatural element in the mix. I thought that the human drama was enough without the horror stuff, but in the end I think it added something to the movie (plus I guess it helps us in the audience accept some of the more extreme things that went on in the elevator). This movie skirts the line between being a horror and a suspense film. Nevertheless, it’s also the kind of movie that may serve to rehabilitate Shyamalan’s reputation a bit and remind us of those good qualities we once saw in him as a filmmaker. (4 out of 5).