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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.
Justin Reardon’s feature-length directorial debut, Playing it Cool, sees an attempt at bring some freshness and originality to the rom-com genre falling into the same old clichés.
Dreaming of one day becoming a successful action screenwriter, the main character of the piece – simply referred to as ‘Narrator’ and played by Chris Evans – isn’t all that enthusiastic about being handed the task of scripting a romantic comedy. See, he’s never been in love – a side-effect from his mother’s abandonment when he was only a young boy – and therefore, he’s unable to see himself writing something that he ‘doesn’t believe in’.
Enter ‘Her’ (Monaghan); a beautiful young woman he meets at a charity event. Sparks fly and he is instantly smitten; however, she’s already engaged to be married to handsome and aloof Brit, ‘Stuffy’ (Gruffudd). Powerless to get her out of his mind – a place filled with a vivid, and often dramatic, writer’s imagination – emotions soon spiral out of control and, well, you know the rest.
Desperately trying to swerve away from the lovely-dovey trappings of the genre, Playing it Cool is the kind of film that’s really difficult to pin-down. Is it a rom-com parody? Or, is it just another movie that begins by dismissing the very notion of romance before eventually falling into the very hole it’s been trying to avoid from the beginning? We’ll go for the latter. Already drawing comparison to movies such as Amelie and 500 Days of Summer – a notion that’s awfully difficult to grasp to begin with – the story lacks the charm, focus and the overall substance that made the aforementioned movies the cinematic success they are.
In fairness, though, the two leads do share some genuine onscreen chemistry; however, the movie’s relatively unexciting script is not smart, strong -or creative enough to take advantage of the fact. Monaghan is the stronger of the two; her charm is infectious and it’s easy to see why any guy would fall for her while Evans, who just doesn’t seem right for the role, tries his best to stick it out. However, just like the story itself, he just doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin – stick to being Captain America.
Essentially, the problem here is that this is a film that tries too hard to be unique, quirky, ironically, doesn’t play it cool one bit.
Almost shockingly predictable and seemingly unaware of its own inescapability, The Boy Next Door – penned by the first-time feature writer, Barbara Curry – is a film you’ve seen a thousand times before. Lacking originality or any sense of awareness, this latest not-as-erotic-as-you-might-think thriller is just as painful as its much-too-revealing trailer suggests.
Directed by the Fast and Furious’ Rob Cohen and produced by JLO herself, the story is centred on suburban high-school teacher, Claire Peterson (Lopez) who’s dealing with a broken heart caused by her now estranged husband, Garrett’s (Corbett), recent infidelity.
Trying to put the heartache behind her, Claire tries to focus on her work as a literature teacher and her son, Kevin (Nelson) – who is still very much fond of his absent father. Her troubles, however, are soon put to the side when she meets a very handsome next-door neighbour, Noah Sandborn (Guzman); a nineteen-year old orphan who has just moved in to take care of his sickly great uncle.
At first, Claire is welcoming – as any mom would be – and she even begins to encourage the idea of Kevin hanging out with their new neighbour. However, her niceness soon gives Noah the courage he needs to escalate their flirty relationship to a whole new level. After having spent one steamy night with the young man, it doesn’t take long for Claire to realise that she’s made a mistake. Unfortunately for her, Noah doesn’t feel the same and he will do everything in his power to let her know that.
There is very little here that sets The Boy Next Door apart from any of the other similarly plotted thrillers – see Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Single White Female - that have gone on to explore – indisputably to a much, much better effect – the subjects of seduction and obsession. In fact, everything about the story feels familiar and worn-out. There’s little-to-no suspense, the plot is weighed down by clunky dialogue and the film’s constant tonal shifting doesn’t help its already weak premise.
Guzman, whose portrayal of an obsessive psychopath resembles something you see in a Spanish telanovela, doesn’t click, while JLO – who doesn’t look a day over 35 – seems a little lost with this one and not even her usual charming ways – not to be confused with acting abilities – could have saved this mess of a film.