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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.
Despite its potentially juicy political premise and Nic Cage’s relatively solid performance – more on that later - Austin Stark’s The Runner ends up being a poor-man’s version of politically-charged TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal.
The Runner follows the story of idealistic Louisiana congressman, Colin Price (Cage) who, in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, is working hard on rebuilding his community, both financially and morally. After giving a passionate speech about the scandal, Colin soon finds himself making headlines and with the encouragement from consultants, Frank (Pierce) and Kate (Paulson), the pathway to a seat at the senate soon opens.
However, his celebrity status and reputation in the community is blemished by the discovery of an affair with the wife of a local fisherman – indiscreetly caught on a CCTV video footage – ultimately, painting the congressman in the worst of lights as he tries to put together the pieces of his shattered life.
The film marks the directorial debut of New York-born indie filmmaker Austin Stark – his producing portfolio includes films such as Happythankyoumoreplease and Detachment – and as far as first-time features go, The Runner is not the worst of its kind.
Playing out like a docu-drama, the plot is intriguing enough and there are plenty of moments of both despair and hope throughout. However, the story’s lack of energy is The Runner’s major flaw, as no matter how interesting its premise may be, there just isn’t enough oomph to get it to the finish line.
Despite its poor pacing and several loose subplots, it’s Cage’s relatively believable performance of a down-in-the-gutter politico looking for redemption that keeps The Runner from falling apart. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination, but one can’t help give credit where it’s due with a man that has often found himself a figure of ridicule.
Despite being another seemingly generic entry from the endless production at Blumhouse Production - see Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Gallows - M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit is an oddly enjoyable and surprisingly affective found-footage horror.
The film follows the story of two siblings, fifteen-year-old Becca (DeJonge) and thirteen-year-old Tyler (Oxenbould), who decide to head out to rural Pennsylvania to spend a week with their estranged grandparents, Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie). The last time their mother, Paula (played by the always reliable Hahn), had seen her parents was fifteen years ago when she left home for good and now Becca - an aspiring filmmaker - is hoping to document their entire visit and shed some light on the longstanding separation.
Excited at the prospect of finally getting all of her questions answered, Becca and Tyler - who helps her to make sure that every angle and frame is fully covered - try their best to make the most out of their visit. However, something seems to be off with Nana and Pop Pop who, after the lights go out, begin to show a much darker side to their already peculiar personalities.
Creepy more than scary, The Visit marks the director’s lowest budgeted feature film to date and although it can’t hold a candle to his 1999 hit, The Sixth Sense, for example, it feels like Shymalan has once again found his footing after a series of duds - think The Last Airbender and After Earth.
Tapping into a familiar concept and turning it into a thoroughly frightening and an ominous experience is what makes The Visit shine. Subtle, simple and refreshingly straightforward, Shyamalan also manages to blend in a light dose of humor into the proceedings and, even though some of the scares can be seen from a mile away and the shaky-cam work does get a little disruptive, the overall result isn’t all that bad.
Delivering a couple of convincing performances, both DeJonge - as the intelligent and extremely grounded older sister - and Oxenbould as her wannabe-rapper younger brother are engaging as the victims-to-be, though Dunagan and McRobbie steal the show with their quietly eerie and wildly unpredictable representation of grandparents-gone-gaga.
Never taking itself too seriously, The Visit is a watchable and undemanding faux-documentary thriller that many have attached the word comedy too. There is definitely a lot to appreciate in this creepy little number, however, if you’re not a fan of this particular sub-genre, then you’re probably better off looking for your frights elsewhere.