To Make Cynics of Us All: Devil, the Horror Film

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There is a long history of stories about humans being influenced or tempted to commit evil by some outside being rather than by their own nature. In Christian translations of Genesis chapter 3, a serpent in the Garden of Eden tells the first woman, Eve, that she will not die if she eats the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Her mate, Adam, joins her in eating the fruit, and they do not, in fact, die after eating the fruit: they are only expelled from the Garden of Eden, which stands as a metaphor for their previous innocence of their own disobedient nature. Despite the fact that the serpent told Adam and Eve the truth, the serpent has long been associated with the evil and with the Devil if only because he revealed the evil that already existed in mankind.

In Christian tradition, the Devil is supposedly the absolute incarnation of evil and is completely separate from God, who is ostensibly all powerful, all knowledgeable, and all good. In most stories that follow the Christian tradition, then, meeting the Devil becomes an encounter with evil. Such a meeting may provide the protagonists with an opportunity to learn that all humans contain both good and evil (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” 1835), to do evil themselves (Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker,” 1824, which itself was based on 16th century German legends of Faust) or to resist doing evil, perhaps by outwitting the Devil himself (Stephen Vincent Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” 1936).     

Devil, a 2010 American horror film, is based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, originally written as a “nod to Agatha Christie’s” mystery novel And Then There Were None, where a group of people, each of whom is guilty of something in his past, is trapped in an isolated area and mysteriously dies one at a time. The film’s director John Erick Dowdle changed the original story by adding something he called a “Devil’s Meeting,” which he claims is a based in a legend of the Devil coming to earth to “test evildoers by tormenting them.

I’m not exactly sure why the Devil would “test” evildoers, and I can’t find any outside corroboration for any tales or legends of such devilish tests. Instead, I’d imagine that the Devil would be happy to have humans doing bad things. In The Book of Job, “the adversary” or “the opponent” (ha satan), which is not capitalized, is considered to be merely the opposite side of an argument. In Job, the adversary tests a man who has never encountered adversity in order to test the man’s absolute faith in God. The adversary does not test a man who is already defying God by going against His commandments and committing evil. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the idea of the Devil’s “testing evildoers by tormenting them” makes little theological or philosophical sense, the horror film Devil is actually an intriguing and unsettling suspense film.

Chris Messina (L) and Matt Craven (R ) in Devil © Universal Pictures

After a jumper plunges to his death from an office building, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) comes to investigate, only to be plunged into another mystery when an elevator stops, trapping 5 people inside. The trapped people include a young woman (Bojana Novakovic) who plans to leave her rich husband and take all his money,

Bojana Novakovic, Devil © Universal Pictures

an older woman (Jenny O’Hara) who is a thief,

Jenny O’Hara, Devil © Universal Pictures

a temporary security guard (Bokeem Woodbine) with a history of violence,

Bokeem Woodbine, Devil © Universal Pictures

a mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green) who intentionally did not sign himself in at the security desk,

Logan Marshall Green, Devil © Universal Pictures

and a sleazy salesman (Geoffrey Arend).

Geoffrey Arend, Devil © Universal Pictures

When the occupants begin to die, police and others begin to suspect a murderer is trapped in the elevator, targeting the other passengers.

Jacob Vargas and Chris Messina, Devil © Universal Pictures

While one of the buildings security guards (Jacob Vargas) is filling Detective Bowden’s ear with ghost stories that his family told him, based on the guard’s belief that he saw something in the elevator on the surveillance video,

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Bowden (with the microphone, below) is desperately trying to determine why someone might want to kill the others passengers trapped in the elevator.

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Some critics and viewers complained that Devil was too short, was while others complained that the story was somewhat convoluted, by which I  think they mean how some of the characters’ stories were ultimately related to those of others. The film does have some minor elements of the supernatural, but they aren’t as important or scary as the psychological aspects of guilt, good, and evil, which involve everyone in the story, even the detectives who are there to save the trapped elevator occupants.

The film is better than its ostensible supernatural elements, which are so sparse, it’s almost like they were put in more by accident than deliberation. Devil is available for rent or purchase on Amazon, on YouTube, on iTunes, and more.

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