A young woman looks into the alleged possession decades earlier of her mother in The Devil Inside, a shaky-cam “found footage” horror movie that starts stupid and concludes its story with breathtaking laziness.
I think this is the first actual wide-release movie of 2012 - not a promising start to our January.
When Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) was a little girl, her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) killed three people (two priests and a nun) during what Isabella later learned was an exorcism at the family home. Her mother was transferred from the U.S. to a facility for the insane in Rome (because, sure, that happens) and Isabella hasn’t seen her in years. Now she’s interested in finding out what’s become of her mother and learning more about exorcisms. And she decides the best way of going about it is to make a documentary about the whole deal.
She arrives in Rome, where she sits in on a Vatican class on exorcisms, viewing a video of a supposedly possessed person. The general consensus seems to be that the girl in the video is severely mentally ill. But renegade priests Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) think that the church is ignoring some possessions. And when Isabella shows them a tape of her visit with her mother - who was mostly a nutter who didn’t recognize her daughter but did know a piece of information about Isabella that surprised her - they think she may also be possessed.
The movie features two big set-piece exorcisms. The first is of Rosa (Bonnie Morgan), that young woman we’re initially told is mentally ill but whom Ben and David believe is harboring a demon. The second is the one attempted on Maria. Both feature lots of blurry lighting, camera jostling and weird cuts and blurs that are supposed to give us the willies in lieu of fancy special effects. Sure, this sort of thing can work - the Paranormal Activity movies create bejesus-removing scares using lights, closing doors and a pool vacuum - but not the way it’s done here, all flash with no thought. The movie tries your patience with overly serious, nuance-free buildup and then gives you straightforward, joints-popping-out-of-place exorcism shtick with no fun context. It neither revels in the fun of a “devil is real! possessions are real!” world nor does it use doubt to create suspense (the way a similar but mildly entertaining horror movie called The Last Exorcism did). Here, it gives us the deep voices and the twisty limbs but nothing interesting about what it’s presenting or the way it’s presenting it.
And then there’s the ending, which is at least in the top five of the list of Laziest Ways to End a Movie Ever. It is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a film just shutting off, as though the filmmakers ran out of money after piecing together the 80-somethingth minute and just saying “Fine, whatever, we’re good here.”
The Devil Inside brings nothing new to the exorcism genre, offers horror fans nothing and leaves you feeling like you just spent an hour and half plus $7 or so and got nothing in return. F
Rated R for disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including sexual references. Directed by William Brent Bell and written by Bell and Matthew Peterman, The Devil Inside is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Insurge.