Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Devil’s Meeting: M. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil”

Billed as the first of “The Night Chronicles,” Shyamalan’s “Devil” opens with a sequence that is strange but apt:  a long helicopter pan over the city, it would be a fairly standard orienting sequence, except that it is presented upside-down.  It thus becomes an experience of disorientation, and then you realize that it is also an apt visual statement of the arrival of the “devil” in question:  the creature, in effect, has to come up to get to where we human beings are.  But not up from a human perspective, as in up out of the ground, but rather up from the spiritual realm in which it lives.  Its priorities are entirely the opposite of the good God who created this physical realm, so it makes a clear and apt theological statement to visualize it as approaching our realm from a literally inverted perspective.

The quote from Peter about the devil roaming the Earth like a lion, seeking whom he may destroy, tells us exactly what we will be dealing with.  Shyamalan’s concept is a putative folk tale, that sometimes “the devil” will trap a small collection of humans together somewhere and “torture them before taking their souls,” an event called “The Devil’s Meeting.”  One of the characters tells us that his grandmother told him that this always begins “with a suicide paving the way for the devil’s arrival, and it would always end with the deaths of all those trapped.” 

Our focus character, a recovering alcoholic cop, is struggling to forgive the unknown man who killed his family in a hit and run; his AA sponsor advises him that in order to get his life back, he “may have to start believing in something greater than himself.”  This is a bit more “2 by 4” than Shyamalan needs to be; we know he’s a better writer than this.  But after that slightly obvious set-up, he gets rolling in the old-school Twilight Zone manner we know and love.
The story is a marvelously well-crafted “locked room” mystery, with excellent red herrings and multiple twists--Ten Little Indians in a claustrophobic high-rise elevator, with our detective slowly coming to terms with the reality of an evil beyond what mere mortals can and do so often dish out upon each other.  In the end, the “devil” is thwarted by a genuine offer of self-sacrifice on behalf of another (“Take me instead;” “STOP SAYING THAT!”), and honest, spirit-broken confession—and forgiveness. 

While the notion of “The Devil’s Meeting” is certainly extra-Biblical, if there ever were such a horrific conference the resolution modeled here in type seems to confirm what the Bible would teach us is the effective strategy against this enemy.  “Devil” is thus not only a very welcome return to what Shyamalan does best—the tight, well-crafted “feature-length Twilight Zone episode,” but also rather a good excursion into Christian worldview, as well. 

Well done, Night!  Where are the rest of these “Chronicles,” anyway?

1 comment:

  1. I throughly enjoyed "Devil," and recommend it at every opportunity. It was planned to be the first of The Night Chronicles, a series of low budget thrillers, but they seem to have been canceled after this landed with a thud, like a body thrown from a skyscraper. ;-)
    I don't know Shyamalan's personal spiritual beliefs, but he previously ventured into the is-God-real and why-do-bad-things-happen territory with "Signs," which, despite some odd plot devices, holds up well and still delivers a moving and faith-afirming conclusion.