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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.
Is love stronger than the laws of gravity? Well, that's one peculiar question that the Argentinean director, Juan Diego Solanas, attempts to answer in newest trippy sci-fi adventure, Upside Down.
Upside Down begins with an informative voiceover explaining the story of two parallel planets – Down and Up – that are stationed exactly opposite each other, existing in the same solar system, with shared yet opposing gravity. All physical matter must obey the gravity of the world from which it comes; both planets exert an equal, but opposite, pull and messing with these laws of physics can potentially result in deadly consequences.
While Down is poor and rundown, Up is rich and affluent; going Up or interacting with the people from Up is deeply forbidden, and the only thing bridging the two is the sinister company, TransWorld.
As a child, Adam (Sturgees) – a hopeful young boy from Down – climbs to the top of Sage Mountain to get close to Up, only to meet the pretty young blonde, Eden (Dunst), from the planet Up. The couple’s affections soon blossom; however, they also attract unwanted attention from the authorities. A bloody confrontation occurs, leaving the soul-mates stranded on their own individual planets for the next ten years.
The story then moves forward and Adam – who is convinced that Eden is gone forever – is working in a run-down lab, trying to perfect a secret, pink bee pollen ingredient he’s inherited; one that allows matter to detect the gravitational fields of both planets at once.
Soon, he lands a job at the intimidating TransWorld and finds that Eden is working there as well. However, in order to get to her, Adam needs to fight against strict corporate rules and against the forces of gravity to find his way into her arms again.
The concept is definitely unorthodox, but not entirely ridiculous. It's a rather creative concept, yes, but perhaps a little too grand for its own good.
The backdrop is not the problem here – it's the story itself. To begin with, this is a tale of star-crossed lovers who will do anything – even challenge the laws of gravity – in order to be with each other. However, their story never really gets a chance to develop, and thanks to a couple of ridiculous subplots and the overpowering presence of their parallel worlds – shot beautifully using CGI effects – it never gets a chance to evoke any sympathy from, or connection to, the audience.
Both Sturgees and Dunst share a decent amount of on-screen chemistry, but the characters get a little lost in their parallel worlds. With no real story to work with, Sturgees looks flustered and Dunst lacks the charisma and allure to draw the audiences in.
Packing in an enormous amount of visual thrills, Upside Down is quirky, original and pleasing to the eye. However, its overly ambitious approach manages to forsake the heart of the story – or rather, lack thereof.
Every now and then, a film comes along and leaves one completely spellbound and utterly speechless long after the end-credits roll. The Place Beyond the Pines is one such example.
Told in chapters, the story opens with the introduction of Luke Glanton (Gosling); a young motorcycle stunt driver working for a travelling carnival. During one of their stops in New York, he bumps into Ramona (Mendes); a girl with whom he’d had a one-night stand with during a previous rendezvous. He soon learns that he is the father of Ramona’s son, and despite the fact that she is now sharing a life with a boyfriend, Luke is determined to do his part and find a way to provide and care for them. He quits the carnival and befriends low-end mechanic, Robin (Mendelsohn), who convinces Luke that his stunt-riding skills might come in handy in pulling bank robberies.
The decision to venture into the world of crime ultimately puts Luke on the radar of Avery Cross (Cooper); a young police officer, and new father, whose story is focused on in the second chapter.
As the two men cross paths, their split-second decisions result in a life-altering moment that will not only have an impact on them, but on generations to come.
Director Derek Cianfrance – who had previously worked with Gosling in heavy 2010 indie drama, Blue Valentine – steps up to a much bigger canvas this time and still manages to deliver another incredibly stirring work of art. His carefully drawn world is compelling and unpredictable, and the unnerving and deeply moving score from composer, Mike Patton, only adds to the sense of dread that runs underneath the story's surface the whole way through. The consequences of one's decisions is the primary theme in this grand narrative and Cianfrance – with the penning support of Ben Coccio and Darius Marder – tells it in a way that feels natural and organic.
The Place Beyond the Pines has already been tipped for Oscar success, partly due to the fact that Cianfrance has managed to draw out some of the best performances of the year. Gosling – whose previous collaboration with the director proved to be some of his best work to date – is once again effortless, charismatic and utterly captivating. As a man who desperately wants to do the right thing, Gosling evokes an incredible amount of sympathy to his character, while Cooper – who is slowly making his way to Hollywood elite status – delivers another magnetic performance. Even Mendes, in the role of a torn and distraught single mother, is confident, poised and manages to hold her own throughout.
Transfixing and poetic, The Place Beyond the Pines is truly one of a kind. Viewers shouldn't be detered by its two-hour-plus running time; great stories like these take time to develop into epics and this is worth every minute.