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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.
Although the very idea of watching 80’s video-game characters come to life on the big screen might hold a certain novelty, Pixels – starring iconic rom-com actor Adam Sandler – has transpired to be something of a disappointment.
Inspired by a 2010 short film, Pixels’ plot revolves around avid arcade-game geek, Sam Brenner (Sandler) and opens in 1982 with the lead losing the final of a video-games tournament in questionable fashion. At the same time, NASA launches a time capsule, of sorts, featuring a video transmission of the tournament showdown as well as other popular video-games, T.V shows and 80’s pop icons into space.
NASA’s attempt is misinterpreted decades later as an act of aggression and Earth is soon invaded by extra-terrestrials taking the form of classic arcade characters. With no one else to turn to for help, President Cooper (played Sandler-soldier, Kevin James) reaches out to his best bud, Brenner – now an underachieving software-installation worker – to channel his gaming skills to fight off the invasion.
Despite its slick visual effects, the general comic outlook of Pixels is likely to only be appreciated by hard-core Adam Sandler loyalists. Directed by Chris Columbus – see The Goonies or first two Harry Potter films – and written by Happy Madison Productions’ very own Tim Herlihy, the film stars Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad and Jane Krakowski – but despite the comic chops of the cast, the film never really uses them well.
Overall, Pixels seems like a nauseating jumble of creative ideas; unfocused and overfed, with very little innovation beyond the stunning visual effects – particularly those over London’s Hyde Park – the film has received largely negative reviews and we can’t help but agree. Granted, the sight of Pac-man ripping through a modern city is a spectacle unto itself; but there’s nothing behind the gimmick and it becomes very hard to engage with what you are seeing very quickly.
Despite this, there is no doubt that Pixels will still be a draw at the box-office. The idea and the potential is there, however, with Hollywood’s favourite man-child there to show us the way - yes, we’re looking at you Mr. Sandler - you can’t help but feel that this could have been something great, had it landed in someone else’s lap.
Let’s dive in and get to the point; there is little-to-nothing new or innovative about Mark Neveldine’s young-woman-possessed-by-a-demonic-spirit offering in The Vatican Tapes – a generic and uncreative horror entry that fails to inspire, move or frighten.
The film begins with a brief video scene showing a possessed woman named Angela (Taylor Dudley), before switching back through the plot’s timeline to find the main character preparing to celebrate her birthday with boyfriend, Pete (Amedori). After unexpected visit from her God-fearing father, Roger (Scott), and a minor accident that sends her to the hospital, Angela begins to show some troubling signs of aggression and unusual behavior. We come to learn that this is the beginning of a systematic demonic takeover, which soon catches the attention of Father Lozano (Pena), who subsequently takes the case to the Vatican when he begins to suspect that Angela may have been chosen as a vessel for the Anti-Christ. Are you still with us?
The Vatican Tapes marks the very first horror film for the director of the Crank film series, Mark Neveldine whose seeming inexperience in the genre is evident throughout. Written by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin, there’s very little to the story – it’s as basic, straightforward and predictable as you can get – and its clumsy execution only goes on to exacerbate. Possessed (ha!) by a level of incoherence, the film and its undeveloped and plain uninteresting characters make it near impossible to invest in the film.
Told in flashbacks and with the shaky found-footage format that just refuses to go away, the plot never really finds its footing and seems rushed, making it awfully difficult to figure out what’s actually going on at times. Similarly, the acting suffers, especially the picture’s biggest name, Michael Pena, who seems uncomfortable in his own skin throughout.
With a reported budget of $13 million, the film has thus far only made $900,000 return and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the production failed to recoup its expenditures. But then what can you say for a film that, in some scenes, looks like it came from a Wayans brothers’ horror spoof in a sub-genre that hasn’t produced a film to top the one that started it all off, The Exorcist?