To say that public perception of Shyamalan had fallen would be an understatement. I mean when the trailer played for this and his name appeared you could hear stifled laughter around the theater (something I witnessed more than once). I still have faith in him as a director. Watch any of his films, liked or not, and you will see the work of a man with a great eye for screen composition. Of course, that also comes with a bad screenwriter and a bad actor-handler. What Devil proves is that he may be bad with performers and screenwriting, he is still a good idea man.
Devil is part one of the Nightmare Chronicles, a series of films based on original ideas from Shyamalan but written and directed by others. In this case the director's chair went to John Erick Dowdle, whose prior work includes Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and screenwriting duties fell to Brian Nelson, who counts Hard Candy among his credits. Seems like a pretty good team.
Cast with smaller performers (not physically, that would be silly, just lesser known actors) Devil is a small film with limited locations that relies on the writing and pacing to build tension and carry the audience through. It is a film that is quite nightmarish and seems to exist within its own contained universe that is separate from our own, but in a Twilight Zone-esque fashion.
The story features a narration telling of a story told to the speaker as a child about how the Devil will come to the Earth to torment those he is about to claim for Hell. This leads into a locked-room mystery with a group of people trapped on an elevator. One is not who he/she seems and by the end of it all you can be guaranteed that some bad things are going to happen.
The story is not all that deep. That said, it is an interesting moral play about the journey we take and our quest for redemption. What may seem like chance may not be, it could just be how we are guided towards that redemption. All you need is that opening for catharsis to find the forgiveness (or lack thereof) that is needed. Of course, this is told with a little violence, some suspicion, and doubt.
Religious undertones abound, the movie is essentially based on them. It is interesting to see it play out, how paranoia creeps in, mistrust takes over, before long it is a real mess inside a confined space while those on the outside busy themselves with trying to put an end to the situation when they have little control over it. Only when there role in the confined mystery is needed are they able to exert any sort of force over the situation.
While not being a first-rate film, it is executed well with good direction and fine performances throughout. It is one that can help restore some faith in Shyamalan while also hopefully helping him realize the areas he needs help with.