The Devil Inside
Directed by William Brent Bell
Screenplay by William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman
Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
How long is The Devil Inside? 83 minutes.
What is The Devil Inside rated? R for disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including some sexual references.
Hollywood should really just quit trying
to make exorcism happen.
The tide of holiday cheer is receding, leaving in its wake a brackish line of winter dormancy and browning Christmas trees. Awards season has only just begun, and let’s be frank: 2011 wasn’t a mind-blowing year for movies. Head scratching ensued when The Devil Inside, the first big release of 2012, made twice its budget at midnight shows alone. It appeared to be just another found footage horror flick, yet another to tackle exorcism – and not nearly as artfully as The Exorcist. So why are people flocking to theaters in frigid, ugly January to watch a simple, short horror flick that promises a few meager scares and a lot of Steadicam? My guess is we’re burned out on the holidays and in need of alternate stimulation. Too many Mannheim Steamroller ditties on the radio, too much tinsel, and a ridiculous abundance of inflatable Santas on suburban front lawns make Americans go crazy.
So, here we are at the opening night screening of The Devil Inside. The theater, while not sold out, is nearly full. Chattering punctuates the trailers, and people occasionally yell at the screen. This is the absolute best way to see a horror movie, of course; the audience is as much part of the experience as the film, and with horror, audience reactions are always passionate (with the exception of the new Last House on the Left – you could’ve heard a pin drop in that theater).
The Devil Inside takes a cue from The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity: it’s the story of a guy with a camera who accidentally/on purpose captures something incredible. In this case, filmmaker Michael (Ionut Grama) follows Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) as she investigates the mysterious circumstances of her mother’s incarceration. In 1989, Isabella’s mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) murdered three clergy members as they performed an exorcism on her. The Vatican didn’t believe she was possessed and separated itself entirely from the case. (In fact, the movie states in the opening shots that the Vatican did not authorize or facilitate this film. Because I’m sure the Vatican cares.) Shortly after her trial, in which she was found not guilty by reason of insanity, Maria was for some reason shipped to Centrino Mental Hospital in Rome, Italy. This, Isabella assumes, is not a coincidence. She treks to Italy with Michael and his camera in tow, explaining that she needs to find out what really happened. In Italy, she visits the Apostolic Academy of Rome (the exorcism school), where she meets Father Ben (Simon Quarterman) and Father David (Evan Helmuth). The two priests have been performing unsanctioned exorcisms for some time and invite her along to see possession up close and personal.
The priests take Isabella and Michael along to the home of Rosa, whose demonic possession has warped her body terribly. Rosa is played by contortionist Bonnie Morgan, whose improbably disjointed limbs make the scene viciously uncomfortable (the addition of gushing menstrual blood is also discomfiting). After the two priests rid Rosa of her demon, they extend the same favor to Isabella’s mother. In the process, something goes horribly wrong – in a case of transference, the multiple entities in Maria jump ship to find younger, more fertile victims. And then? you ask. Well, and then the movie’s over. With a jarringly abrupt termination that is less a conclusion than an obnoxious cliffhanger, we’re given a website to visit to continue following “the Rossi case.” Boos reverberate through the theater. “Come on, you wanted to see this too!” says a boy to his girlfriend as they exit.
2010 saw the release of another found-footage movie about the rite of ridding people of demons in The Last Exorcism. Last year, The Rite boasted Anthony Hopkins striving for just a touch of Hannibal Lecter during his own cinematic exorcism. One thing is certain: no movie about exorcism will ever hold a candle to that shocker of shockers, that brilliantly spooky original film from 1973. Every movie on the subject draws comparison to The Exorcist, and rarely in a good way. The Devil Inside is no exception. Suzan Crowley and Fernanda Andrade don’t lend to the film the absolute terror of Mercedes McCambridge’s demonic utterances. The two priests, one of whom is suffering from a downplayed crisis of faith á la Damien Karras, are no Max von Sydow and Jason Miller. Hollywood should really just quit trying.
As of 2012, the Vatican has (according to film lore) taken a firm stance on exorcism: all other causes for possessed behavior must be ruled out absolutely before exorcism is allowed. The doctors treating Maria throw around the term “D.I.D.” (Dissassociate Identity Disorder, or what used to be known as Multiple Personality Disorder), but no one in the medical community can actually explain her behavior. Science and religion have never made happy bedfellows, and there’s a lot to be said about that duality, the way science and religion weave into and around one another. Unfortunately, though it features a priest who is also a medical doctor and a possessed woman locked away and heavily drugged in a mental hospital, The Devil Inside pretty much ignores this ripe opportunity.
When the lights go out, you can expect something to make you jump – these are the moments when a vocal audience is so much fun, since after the initial thump that means everyone has thudded back into their seats, there’s much embarrassed giggling, quiet chatter, sometimes a muttered oath. Unfortunately, The Devil Inside offers little besides these jumpy moments; much of the movie is simply people staring into the camera, offering little insight to their circumstances. And then there’s the frustrating ending.
Based on its opening weekend, The Devil Inside will enjoy box office success, and perhaps a sequel or three. Unfortunately, it just isn’t very good. If you really, really want to shake off the holiday cheer, go to the theater and feel vaguely spooked for an hour, then intensely frustrated. Otherwise, don’t bother.