Sign in using your account with
Devil: A Throwback Horror Clinger
In one of cinema’s most ironic twists, Devil’s reason for existence turned out to be its own worst enemy. The blessing of M. Night Shyamalan, director of the brilliant The Sixth Sense and a whole bunch of other loathed films, puts Devil in the unfortunate position of having to overcome Shyamalan’s own baggage to earn viewers’ interest. This is a shame; as Devil is a truly gripping horror thriller free of Shyamalan’s usual off-putting pretences.
The premise is simple but quite effective: five sketchy individuals are trapped in an elevator, unaware that one of them may be the devil. There is the sleazy salesman who has screwed his fair share of innocent people out of their savings; a posh, good-looking lady that's also an unapologetic gold-digger; an unassuming old woman who is also a compulsive pocket thief; a brawny looking fellow with a criminal past, and last of all; a suspiciously coy man who has witnessed excessive brutality during his days in the military.
From this classical horror setup, Devil manages to deliver some interesting twists; keeping the mystery alive and present for the film’s entire 80 minutes, which fly by fast. The elevator scenes depict the claustrophobia of the situation well through cleaver camera angles, never exhausting the location’s confined space. However, Devil is most ingenious in its use of darkness as a means of generating fear, projecting pivotal scenes in the viewers’ imagination in their entirety– harrowing and unnerving.
Getting trapped with the Prince of Darkness is a horrific prospect in itself, but director Dowdle gives it a moody spin with his insular and bleak cinematography. There is a sense of vacancy in Devil’s open landscape scenery that contrasts with the confined setting of the elevator. Devil’s cast of unfamiliar actors add to the film’s mystique while delivering competent performances that ground the film’s sense of foreboding and hopelessness.
Devil’s religious themes are heavy-handed and the film often hammers home its point too blatantly. However, it’s not uncharacteristic or out of place for a film that carries such a bold title.
Unlike other horror affairs that opt for gore and blood to turn your stomach, Devil never feels exploitive or nihilistically ambivalent; if anything, the film leaves you with a renewed sense of hope.
Pretty Woman director, Garry Marshall, returns to the big screen with the star-studded but helplessly formulaic ensemble comedy that is Mother’s Day; a mindless and unintelligent onscreen debacle which ends up delivering its uninvolving and forced storylines with a heavy-handed serving of cheep and cheesy sentimentality.
Meet Sandy (Aniston); a happily divorced housewife and mother of two whose ex-husband Henry (Olyphant) suddenly announces his marriage to young bombshell Tina (Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell). Her friend, Jesse (Hudson), is married to Russell (Mandvi); a man of Indian origin whom she has a son with but, hasn’t yet told her parents - Flo (Martindale) and Earl (Pine) - whose Texan roots and conservative nature doesn't sit well with their union. Her sister Gabi (Chalke), meanwhile, is in the same boat, with her marriage to Max (Esposito) – who happens to be a woman – also something that might not go down very well .
Meanwhile, Bradley (Sudeikis) - a widower whose marine wife (Jennifer Garner in an excruciatingly syrupy karaoke singing cameo) was recently killed in combat - is trying his best raising their two daughters, who are at the gates of puberty.Then there’s Kristin (Robertson); a young mom who is not sure whether she can commit to the father of her child, Zack (Whitehall), and finally, there’s Julia Roberts – and her wig - in the role of Miranda; a multi-million dollar shopping network mogul who's seemingly been shoe-horned into the plot.
Although Garry Marshall’s recent, similar efforts with Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve have been almost unanimously panned by critics, one must say that even though they’re far from what you might call award-winning cinematic achievements, there’s always a comforting sense of predictability and familiarity.
Mother’s Day, however, overworks its interconnecting plot whilst trying to juggle far too many characters at the same time, without so much as pausing for affect. The jokes are painfully weak and sometimes even quite offensive, while all of the conflicts – if you can even call them that – are resolved far too easily to matter.
The only performance worth mentioning is that of Aniston, who manages to sustain a level of charm and likability for most of the story, whilst Roberts’ Ana Wintour-type wig remains as one of the film’s biggest highlights in a what-the-hell-was-she-thinking kind of way.
Sappy, disengaging, unrewarding and ultimately lifeless, Mother’s Day takes the occasion-based ensemble rom-com idea into territories that it may never recover from. Who knows what day they’ll tie into a film next – Halloween? Easter? How about Martin Luther King Day? Enough’s enough.
Saddled with an overworked air of mystery that turns into vagueness and a little too much of a sullen atmosphere for its own good, Michael Petroni’s Backtrack finds one seemingly committed and haunted-looking Adrien Brody a little lost for guidance in how to bring about this effectively moody, but not at all frightening ghost-fest fiasco to light.
Set and shot in Australia, Backtrack tells the story of a troubled psychotherapist, Peter Bower (Brody sporting a relatively decent Aussie accent), who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start with wife, Carol (Baird), after the loss of their young daughter Elvie (O’Farrell) to an incident caused by his own negligence. Unable to come to terms with her death and still very much haunted by crippling flashbacks, it takes some time for Peter to realise that a large portion of his most recent clientele – who all seem to be believe it’s 1987 - are actually ghosts, including one spooky-looking young girl named Elizabeth Valentine.
Unsure whether what he is seeing is real or if he’s having some sort of a mental breakdown, Peter decides to seek advice from friend and fellow therapist, Duncan Stewart (Neill wasted in his role), who thinks that there is a connection between his own personal tragedy and his latest array of patients, especially young Elizabeth, forcing him to go back to his hometown and investigate the repeated reference to 1987.
While the presence of the committed and reliable Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody, adds a note of credibility to proceedings, there is still a deep lack of complexity and originality in Michael Petroni’s derivative script which, unlike Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense which clearly is the main source of ‘inspiration’ here, seems to favour the style-over-substance approach. Predictability and familiarity are also plaguing factors and the fact that the audience can probably work out where the story is headed long before its leading man, doesn’t really leave Backtrack with enough storytelling power to pull itself out of the mess.
In the end, it’s relatively safe to say that Petroni’s second feature film – see 2003’s Till Human Voices Wake Us - leaves a lot to be desired. There is a decent idea in there somewhere and the air of intensity is somewhat effective, but what might have sounded good on paper doesn’t really necessarily translate on the screen. It's as if the film tries so hard to set the mood, that it forgets that in needs the occasional pop.