There’s nothing wrong with the premise of “Devil,” which is that five apparently random people are trapped in an elevator and one of them might be dangerous. In fact, there are several things right with that premise — notably that it involves strangers in a confined space who might kill each other. Many a fine Agatha Christie mystery (or Agathy Christery, as the kids call it) has been built around that simple, elegant scenario.
Agatha Christie’s stories had good dialogue, though, and “Devil” does not. With a screenplay Brian Nelson (“Hard Candy”) and a story by M. Night Shyamalan, the film is filled with clunky, lifeless language, some of it laughably hokey. What’s more, as creepy things start happening in the elevator, the plot fixates on the idea that one of the stuck passengers is the Devil, limiting the other possible explanations and losing a chance to really keep us off-balance.
But the film is campfire-story engaging for a while. The five characters in search of an exit are an oily salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a cranky old lady (Jenny O’Hara), a well-dressed younger woman (Bojana Novakovic), a quiet ex-soldier (Logan Marshall-Green), and one of the office building’s security guards (Bokeem Woodbine). Back in the control room, a police detective (Chris Messina) watches the elevator surveillance camera and tries to communicate with the passengers, while also trying to investigate who these people are and which of them is lethal.
The director, John Erick Dowdle, made good use of enclosed spaces in “Quarantine,” and does so again here. He also explores the vastness of the outside world, letting the cameras rove up and down skyscrapers and through vast lobbies. He achieves a certain suspenseful tone, not very strong or powerful, and certainly never scary, but not boring, either.
Then the goofy “fate” and “coincidence” factors in the story increase, moving it over the line from kind of creepy to kind of stupid. It never recovers, and the last act is sadly unsatisfying. Up to that point I’d generally been enjoying it, ready to give the film a lukewarm endorsement. Now it’s lukewarmer, and not really an endorsement: You could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.
Note: Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.
C (1 hr., 20 min.; )