What It’s About: Nine obnoxious Wall Street party-goers stuck on an elevator must work together to find the most boring way possible to be scared by a bomb.
Who It’s For: Elevator repairmen.
I have not seen Devil, but I don’t think we can talk about Elevator without talking about Devil. Devil is about how sometimes you take the elevator and you should be careful because one person might be a devil, or the Devil. I’m not exactly sure in what ways you should be careful. You should probably always take the stairs, or get off the elevator if one person seems particularly devilish. In fact, you should listen to the tagline on Elevator’s poster, which is “Take the Stairs.” It’s essentially saying, “Do avoid everything about this movie.”
I presume the titular Devil punishes people in that film for their elevator greed. “Welcome to the Hell-evator. You pressed the buttons too fast or cheated on your taxes. Come to my home, which is Hell, and suck my devil dick! And also you over here have to die because you said, “The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!” in Super Troopers and yet somehow get to go to bed with Joan Holloway for the rest of your life. How did you pull that off? You must have committed some sort of terrible, The Box–like crime for that to have worked out. And you, your character was the worst part of Prometheus, and that’s saying a lot. You are very handsome, but acting-wise you are a total Tom Hardly. Do you get it? Because you are not quite as good as but very similar in appearance to Tom Hardy, another young actor. Meow! But I kid, I’m just having fun, now suck my devil dick.” It’s almost like the Devil just skimmed his own film’s IMDb page, saw Geoffrey Arend and Logan Marshall-Green were in it, and then got really catty. The Devil and I are similar.
I guess ever since that guy from Businessweek got trapped in an elevator for 41 hours and The New Yorker made a poignant video about it, America’s obsession with the machine that takes us up and down in tall buildings has reached a fever pitch, such that in the last few years we’ve gotten two entries in the ele-horror genre. Spending 90 minutes trapped in an elevator with actors sounds to me like a horrible nightmare, and I don’t know why a director or a crew would want to subject themselves, much less an audience, to that. At least in Devil they’re all, “Yes, there is an elevator full of actors, and boy will they act with their faces, but one is the Devil so at least they will get punished.” There are no devils in Elevator. Unless the point of Elevator is that we’re all devils. “The Beast in Me” is a well-known song about how English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe has struggled for years with devilism.
After a brief montage of a bomb-maker assembling an explosive for an unseen buyer, fancy guests gather for a fancy party at the Barton Building, home of powerful Wall Street financial firm Barton something-or-other. The point is that someone named Barton owns both the building and the company. As a seemingly random assortment of guests pile into the elevator headed for the top floor, we learn that tonight’s party is special: Barton himself is rumored to be attending, and he’s got an announcement to make.
The nine party-goers in the elevator are a fascinatingly uninteresting cross-section of humanity. Don Handley (Christopher Backus, who looks like Timothy Olymost) is a dashing bond salesman at Barton, saying things like “I’ll send a car for you” and “I want it on my desk!” to people, people like his beautiful and famous reporter fiancé Maureen (Tehmina Sunny). Martin Gossling (Devin Ratray) is Handley’s co-worker, and his main character trait is that he’s fat; one, he is fat, and two, he walks into the elevator with barbecue sauce on his face, which is a common fat-guy tell in movies but rarely makes sense because why would the fat guy miss any sauce? Celine Fouquet (Anita Briem) also works at Barton, and she is super, about-to-explode pregnant, but she’s also hot, so it’s complicated. Though it’s never explained, when Celine gets nervous, she forgets she’s supposed to be American and then sounds super Icelandic, giving her character lots of depth.
Jane Redding (Shirley Knight) is a nervous old lady investor, and she enjoys pills and drinking from a flask, and to be honest, who doesn’t. George Axelrod (The Single Guy’s Joey Slotnick) is the replacement comedian hired to work the party, and he is neurotic, loud, and also racist, like all good comedians. My favorite thing about the scores of Wall Street parties I attend each year is how good the comedians always are. It's fun to hear customized jokes about vice presidents of human resources while I eat soup. Within seconds of stepping into the elevator and yelling at everyone about how much he hates small spaces and elevator rides, Axelrod calls Mohammed (Waleed Zuaiter), the security guard, a terrorist. He waits about 1.2 more seconds to call him Bin Laden, “as a joke.” Axelrod does this all before Mohammed, who anyway sounds like he was raised in Bakersfield, says a word, and no offense to Mr. Zuaiter, but he does not read as obviously Middle Eastern at all. I guess I’m just saying we’re meant to believe that Axelrod is a tremendously confident and perceptive racist.
Finally, Mr. Barton (John Getz) and his granddaughter Amanda get on the elevator. The rumors are true: Barton is announcing his retirement tonight. He’s decided to step down and accept his $75 million retirement package at a party that has a schticky hired comedian. And also he brought his young granddaughter. “Honey, do you want to come to a dinner at a skyscraper where I tell other accountants about my plans to consult?” “Absolutely, Pawpaw.” As the elevator glides to the penthouse, young Amanda pushes the emergency stop button just to spite Axelrod’s annoying claustrophobia. As an audience member, I am torn. I too want to punish Axelrod for how loud and obnoxious he is, but also I know that if she doesn’t push that button, the elevator won’t get stuck and then the movie will end. Axelrod snaps at Amanda, “Evil little bitch!” Barton fires him.
There is about 20 minutes of captivating elevator business establishing why they're stuck. "Have you tried pressing other floors?" "You have to pull out the stop button." "My walky-talky is dead." "Don't keep pressing." "What do you mean you have to wait for the elevator company?" "Shoot, there's nothing above the ceiling panels but the lights." "I hope we don't miss the first course." Imagine being in a mildly worrisome situation with annoying and incompetent strangers for 10 minutes and you'll have a good feel for these scenes. It's just like Lord of the Flies, but all grown up, and now everyone's the fat one.
After Barton declares it's only been 10 minutes, Celine announces she has to pee. Sure, she's pregnant, but also give it a minute, lady. She doesn't. There are more scenes of her dumping out her purse so she can squat over it, Gossling making a privacy screen with his blazer, and Mohammed offering his arm while she drains the ol' baby hole. (I don't know where babies or pee come from.) Amanda stares at the peeing. Other boring things happen. Axelrod and Mohammed get into an Iran-Israel debate, which is both insightful and fun to listen to. Axelrod also reveals one of the jokes he was planning to test out tonight, a street joke that ends with, “It’s not a porch, it’s a Ferrari.” He must be a tremendous comedian. He says, in regard to their elevator situation, “It could be worse. Have you ever played the Comedy Cellar?” The Comedy Cellar is considered one of the best comedy clubs in the country, with famously great audiences and star-studded lineups. It’d be an honor to play there, Axelrod, but maybe it would go poorly if you told jokes stolen out of a book in your uncle’s bathroom. What are you doing in your uncle’s bathroom?
Watching these zeroes navigate a harmless mechanical failure is breathtaking stuff, and I wish this movie were a 22-episode television season shown in real time, but unfortunately more plot happens. Jane, the drunken investor lady, came all the way from Cleveland for this party. Her husband's not with her because he went and shot himself in the head after losing their whole savings in junk bonds that Barton's firm advised him to invest in. Don says, "Oh yeah, those." She blabbers about her son being in Iraq and how she didn't intend for the elevator to stall. In flashback, we see her picking up the bomb from the bomb maker, a friend of her son's. Before the "elevator family" learns this — "elevator family" is what they decide to call themselves, for real — she has a heart attack and dies. Her last words are mumbles about the bomb.
Whoops, dead bomb walking. They rush to save her, and yell at the 911 operator to please send help even faster now. Before she died, the “elevator family” was very eager to be rescued, probably as eager as they thought they could be, but now that the elevator has a dead body in it, a dead body that died mumbling the word “bomb,” they want to be rescued even more. “Rescue us so hard.” The police swear they are trying their hardest. I don’t think they actually say that, but it’s funny that they would. “We swear to God, sir, we are trying our hardest at being cops.”
Mi Elevatora Familia becomes nervous about how Jane might have a bomb on her. Gossling suggests they check the body for a bomb. Also, Maureen, the reporter, starts streaming news reports from her phone to her producer, just in case. Here the movie switches for a while to a found-footage style, which is cool to watch, especially when it’s not at all central to the film’s narrative conceit. “Make 'em seasick every minute,” is a famous quote from director E.E. Barnum.
You’d probably think a hero would emerge here, maybe Don, because he’s handsome, or Gossling, because he’s the least unlikable. Someone brave must step forward and search this drunken old lady for a bomb, and that someone brave is ... the pregnant lady? Oh, cool, the woman who is pregnant will do the bomb search. I guess I appreciate that this lady, who again is so pregnant she looks ready to explode, is willing to put her own life and the life of her unborn child on the line by being physically closest to a rudimentary explosive device while she amateurishly fiddles around for it. What I do not appreciate is that no one, not a single one of the remaining seven alive people in the elevator, says one single thing, raises even a finger, to stop her from patting down a dead lady for a bomb. “Hey, Celine, you are nearly in your third trimester, clearly. Maybe don’t be the one to crouch down baby-first on this old-lady-mine? Probably any of us other people, none of whom are almost done making a child, could do it instead, and that might be the least bit considerate.”
Nope, that doesn’t happen. Grown men, a strong lady, captains of industry, an ex-military security guard, all just watch her silently sniff for the bomb. It’s infuriating. Gossling says to her, after minutes of Celine patting down the body, “Good job, Celine.” Then he suggests, “We should check under the dress, under the blouse.” Of course, when he says, “We” he means “You.” Celine screams, “I am not doing that!” That’s a smart impulse, but it’s one she doesn’t listen to. Everyone else pressures her into feeling the lady’s blouse, and she does. These people are monsters. When will the Devil step forward and punish them? Celine finds a bomb. Now would be a good time to move your belly away from blouse explosive. Henry Barton, presumably worth billions, says, “You’re a very impressive woman.” And you are an incredibly unimpressive man.
Celine is visibly shaken, having just completed a bomb search. She lights a cigarette, and Don has the nerve to say, “You shouldn’t smoke.” Oh, but she should look for a bomb. I wish she would put the cigarette out in his eye. Also, at some point it comes out that Don and Celine had an affair and he is the father of her child. That makes it extra cool when he watched her play with the lady bomb. Gossling pulls up the news on his phone, and the bomb maker has come forward. He says he made the bomb as a favor to Jane’s son, but he doesn’t want these people hurt; it was only supposed to kill Jane, to send a message, the message being, “Oh my God that drunk old lady just exploded.” He tells the news they probably have about 10 minutes left.
They try to pry open the door, and Don reaches out with a cane to hit the up button on the next floor, but then the elevator drops and it chops off his arm. Axelrod has the brilliant idea to toss the old lady’s body down the shaft. The old lady’s body is too big, though, so he suggests cutting it in half. Oh boy. Barton takes a pocketknife from Mohammed and jams into her stomach. While we mercifully don’t see what’s going on, we hear the gristle and see blood spray as everyone, except Amanda who is a child and Don who doesn’t have an arm, works together to rip Jane in half. They can’t cut the spine so they try to crack it. It’s brutal, and it’s neither funny nor scary; it’s weird and sad. But the SWAT team gets there and helps them unload through the half-open door. Gossling is too fat to fit, so they’ve got to lower him to the basement. We don’t actually see Celine get lifted out, and she’s almost his size. I guess she just smushed her baby as she did it. As the elevator lowers, Gossling says, “I guess I’m the hero.” No, you’re not. The elevator explodes, killing him.
And the Devil wakes up. It was all a dream! Or was it? We are all devils. Devil is just Dog spelled backward. This movie sucked.
When You Should Watch It: If you are stuck on an elevator for three minutes and need to know how to saw an old lady’s torso in half with a Leatherman.