Screen Meaning is a weekly exploration by Chase Livingston of the spiritual or transcendent themes contained within films.
No matter what you believe about evil, even if you believe the devil is a bogeyman used to control people, you will agree evil is an undeniable reality. You may choose a different word: corruption, conspiracy, catastrophe, or incompetence. Nonetheless, by your outrage or dismay you indirectly acknowledge that evil is a real force.
Horror movies have faithfully tended to these themes for as long as there have been horror movies. This genre has been so successful because the stories resonate deeply with us speaking of what we are fear most. These stories usually imagine a threat “out there” ready to overtake us when we least expect it. Devil has a more sound theology of evil, demonstrating that while there is an external threat we are not innocent bystanders. With every misdeed or act or malice, we welcome the evil presence.
Devil is about five strangers who meet in an elevator and get to know each other when the elevator gets stuck between floors. Their choices have lead them here and as the title suggests, the devil arrives to destroy them. The moral center of the film is Ramirez, a security guard, who recognizes the events he witnesses on the closed-circuit TV as the devil’s handiwork. He declares this to the embarrassment of his senior co-worker and to the scoffing of a skeptical detective.
Ramirez recalls a story his mother used to tell him about the devil. Detective Bowden plows ahead, insistent that he can solve the crime and apprehend the criminal. Ramirez comments that people like Bowden don’t believe in evil but Bowden corrects him. Despite his disavowal of the superstitious, he believes in evil. The origin of this conviction is a tragedy over which he is still angry.
In the end, repentance disarms the devil and that is biblically accurate.