Well, this just about made my day much brighter.
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Don't worry about me if I just so happen to be watching a lot of scary movies lately. My wife is out of town and as they say, "when the cat's away, the mice will poop their pants in fear." Or something like that. This time I decided to take a look at M. Night Shyamalan's inspired Devil (which I should clarify is actually directed by John Dowdle). I for one enjoy films like this, films that require little in the way of set-pieces and require a skilled hand to make compelling. The film isn't perfect, in fact, I completely understand why it was met with low-to-mediocre reviews, but there is something unique to this film that managed to earn more stars than I expected to award.
I should first point out that the film should never have been titled "Devil." Why? Because I don't like it. Do I not like it because it scares me? Yes. Just go with "Elevator," M. Night, or "Up (not to be confused with Pixar's Up because this one involves the Devil on an elevator)." But it is what it is. After a pretty great credit sequence, the film begins with a group of five strangers hopping onto an elevator. One is a businessman, one a repairman, another a little old lady, and the last a pretty lady who's entire life is pretty much based upon being pretty. Of course, once the doors close the elevator screeches to a halt and the four are left to ponder what in the world is scratching their backs whenever the lights start flickering. If my wife was there she probably would've just assumed it was one of my terrible back rubs - HEYO! Wha haappened?!
A private detective is lucky enough to be on the spot after a suicide took place at the same building only hours beforehand. What a coincidence. He's a damaged man with a dark past. His family was killed in a hit and run five years ago. And yes, he's a recovering alcoholic. If you're taking shots based upon horror movie cliche's you're probably recovering too.
All this to say that Devil is still very much engaging. What in the world is actually going on here? Will everyone actually die? Sure, some of these characters are a tad shallow, but beneath their shallow waters is an emotional depth you can't help but connect with because, let's face it, some things are cliche because they're true and they work. Despite having a title that sounds very evil, Devil shows an incredible amount of redemption. This is, I think, one of the sweetest horror films I've seen in a long time. Yes, it still has some scary moments. Yes, people die. Yet unlike most horror films, it ends with a note of salvation, which to me was a breath of fresh air after a long time in a very small place. Who knew that a film called Devil could have such good old Christian values? Maybe the name does fit.
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There is a certain purity to be found in the horror film genre. These are films meant purely to excite, to engage, and to incite a core reaction that's built into our genes. It's a roller ride without leaving the room. For all extensive purposes, Insidious is a great example. It does exactly what it's supposed to do, and often it does it very well. Things pop out at you, things pop out behind you, and things hang around long after they should have.
I honestly, think this is a really one of the most well made horror movies in a long time. That said, I can't help but shake the feeling that this movie was heavily inspired by Drag Me To Hell, a superior film, I think, but I'll get to why later. Insidious is centered around a common happy family who move in to a house that just so happens to have a distant cousin of Darth Maul living in the attic. Their adventurous young boy ventures up there one day only to fall off a reasonably high ladder and slip into a coma. The real problem however, is that the boy doesn't appear to have any brain damage to speak of. Over the next several months he's cared for by his mother, whose frequent piano practices are cut short by clattering books, slamming doors, and the sounds of screams coming from the baby monitor. These people seriously need a vacation.
Despite only having a PG-13 rating, Insidious knows how to find it's scares without showing too much. It's far more disturbing than most horror movies that opt for blood and guts, and smarter because of it. The film balances an eerie atmosphere well with sudden scares, borrowing pages from Poltergeist, The Shining, Disney's Haunted Mansion, even videogames like Silent Hill. Expect many things to suddenly appear in places they weren't before, and expect them to be gone on a second glance. So much of this film really works.
The film is smart enough to include a bit of light humor with the introduction of a group of paranormal investigators, two of whom bumble about the house with homemade gadgets made from children's toys. The shock is that they actually get the job done. I personally found the viewfinder to be particularly effective. Their boss, played by the wonderful Lin Shaye, is quick to inform the unlucky parents that their son is trapped in a netherworld called "The Further." This, I should add, is technically a spoiler because it occurs in the final half of the film, but I should also note, an entire netherworld is a lot to cover with only a quarter of a movie left to go. The paranormal investigators work so well because they're really very good characters. I'm not sure I can really say the same for the parents. Mostly they're there to get scared.
The film Drag Me To Hell had a lighthearted spirit to it that served a purpose along with the terror. Something actually happened, and something was actually learned. Yes, Insidious does scare, and does so with a clever spirit aiming to entertain, but there isn't much left to be taken away, or taken to heart. There are some truly great moments here. Some with shocking appearances, some with just downright eerie moments. But much like a roller coaster, it will end, the handle bars will go up, and you'll have to get back in line. At least we'll have the memories.