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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.
Held together by a couple of strong performances, Peter Sattler’s directorial debut, Camp X-Ray, explores the story of an unlikely friendship between a female Guantanamo Bay security officer and a long-suffering Arab detainee.
Private Cole (Stewart) is a young woman from a small town in Florida, who – shortly after the atrocities of 9/11 – enlists in the military and is eventually deployed to Cuba to serve as a security guard at Guantanamo Bay.
Enveloped in her own securities in a harsh, male-dominated world, Cole buckles down and begins her daily routine of walking the restrictive cell-block halls. It’s doesn’t take long before she attracts the attention of Ali (Moaadi), however; a well-spoken Arab detainee who has been locked up for the past eight years. Recognising a chink in the armour of her tough facade, Ali baits Cole for some much-needed attention. Though she initially tries keeps her distance, an improbable, though inevitably strained, relationship develops.
Shot with a sense of pining, Camp X-Ray has a small-movie feel that, despite its sometimes shallow approach and lapses into stereotyping, has a big message. Grounded and engaging, the story very much focuses on the dynamics and the growing connection between two very different, but similarly lost, souls whose hopes and dreams are very different from their existence. Its politically-charged premise is never abused and the script, unlike other war-on-terrorism productions, never spoon-feeds its political overtones to the audience; in fact, it leaves it to them to decide and determine the nature of everyone involved.
For a character-driven piece, Stewart’s trademark cold demeanour is actually well suited for her role, while Moaadi – best known for his turn in Iranian Oscar-winning drama, A Separation – is superb as the tormented detainee, managing to convey a variety of emotions with one seemingly haunted look.
Despite its occasional – and predictable – forays into clichéd territories, Camp X-Ray commendably refrains from using its controversial setting as a plot device, instead using it as a backdrop, letting the characters develop in a much more organic and human way – which the actors execute impeccably.
Arriving in cinemas in a tornado of controversy, the behind-the-scene chaos of Paul Schrader’s Dying of the Light is much more interesting than the film itself. The man who penned classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull was quick to distance himself from the project ahead of its release after some rather sticky backstage problems with the producers.
Centred on bitter veteran C.I.A agent, Evan Lake (Cage), the thriller is essentially a revenge story, with the hero of the piece holding a ceaseless grudge against at-large terrorist, Mohamed Banir (Karim).
After his employers begin to push him into retirement, his young protégé, Milton Schultz (Yelchin), finds a lead on the whereabouts of Lake’s long-time nemesis, sending the two on a perilous hunt in Kenya.
Six or so weeks before its release, Schrader posted a message on his official Facebook page, reading "We lost the battle.’Dying of the Light,' a film I wrote and directed, was taken away from me, reedited, scored and mixed without my input."
It’s something that becomes apparent pretty soon into the film, with the film’s cinematographer, Gabriel Kosuth, also washing his hands of the released version of the film, saying that he was “denied the possibility to accomplish in post-production what is any cinematographer’s duty.”
Whatever the claims may be, the reality of the final outcome is farcical. Nothing about Dying of the Light makes sense; everything about the narrative feels rushed, over-explained and inflated by its seemingly bizarre and hard-hitting score.
In the middle of the mess is poor Nicolas Cage – a man who will, more than anyone else, suffer the butt of ridicule for the universally panned film. In the actor’s defence, there’s little anyone could have salvaged from the train-wreck film and even the most skilled of actors would have struggled to come out of this looking anything but ludicrous.
There are moments where Cage’s trademark subtle grit falls into place with the storyline and just the very notion of a damaged and imperfect agent is a timeless set-up for any thriller; unfortunately, regardless of the clash between Schrader and the producers, this is still a bland, unintelligent thriller – and that word should be used in the loosest sense.