Originally posted January 11th, 2012
“The Vatican did not endorse this film, or aid in its completion.” So reads the opening text of The Devil Inside, a new horror movie that purports to record events surrounding the exorcism of a criminally insane woman locked in a Vatican mental hospital. The filmmakers intended this to be a provocative dig at the Catholic Church, knowing that the Vatican would have no reason to endorse the movie. That’s not just because it’s a faux-documentary that pretends to be based on fact when it certainly isn’t. No, it’s probably because the church giving the thumbs up would be mean they support a film that’s as insipidly dull and scare-free as The Devil Inside is.
With the aim of becoming the next Paranormal Activity squarely in the filmmaker’s sights, The Devil Inside plays like a checklist of that franchises least enjoyable elements. A bland cast of cannon fodder that ranges from forgettable to grating? Check. Hand-held camera direction that sways around aimlessly to give the impression of energy? You bet. An occasional scare from stuff jumping out at you? Actually, there are less of these cheap gotcha moments than you might expect, which would be commendable in a film that had a premise that was both terrifying and original. Sadly, The Devil Inside is neither.
What depth left in the exorcism genre not covered by The Exorcist has been pretty much mined by movies like The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which created hooks out of the question of faith at the center of a rather violent ritual. The Devil Inside confuses awkward commentary on the Catholic Church with depth, and settles for being a painfully slow tour bus of the mildly grotesque. When it opens on a police tape of dead bodies, covered head to toe in blood, is the camera’s indulgent fixation on the film’s FX budget supposed to be scary? Disgusting, maybe, but that’s not the feeling the audience paid $15 for.
The Devil Inside’s only brush with novelty is the conceit that Vatican higher-ups refuse to recognize possession, so it falls to a couple loose cannon Fathers to help young Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) discover the source of her mother’s deadly mania. The priests also happen to be well-equipped medically, so the exorcism scenes have plenty of beeping equipment, so as to give the impression that the film has a pulse.
“No two exorcisms are the same” intones father Ben (Simon Quarterman) to Isabella, as he tries to convince her to stay on her feet and the audience to stay in their seats. Again, the writers fall hard on cliché and act like their set-pieces need to be assembled with complete adherence to the exorcism playbook. Victims violently contorting, shouting nonsense and sexual taunts, or exhibiting random bouts of superhuman strength are bare minimums of the genre, but for The Devil Inside,they’re lazy highpoints. You go in knowing that most of the cast is going to get the axe, but wanting them to die out of pure boredom is thoroughly unsatisfying.
Granted, stupidity is a pretty good way to work up audience bloodlust, something The Devil Inside has to spare. The documentarian recording all the supernatural craziness has the same separation anxiety from his camera all rubes in found-footage films do. Worse, the Vatican experts prove just as inept. One hopes that by their second exorcism, the priests would have figured out that a possessed person won’t have much trouble breaking out of restraints that look like repurposed gift-wrapping ribbons. And you’d think they’d know that the inverted cross that’s etched on their patient, while typically associated with modern Satanism, is actual a symbol of Saint Peter. You know, seeing as they’re TRAINED CATHOLIC PRIESTS.
Even the basic mechanics of the film’s structure bare the unmistakeable mark of incompetence on the part of the filmmakers. Early on, we see professional talking heads from experts in medical and religious fields, giving the impression we’re watching a documentary. That’s completely abandoned once the film picks up the found-footage style, one where the film can inexplicably cut around in the same scene, despite the presence of only one camera. Perhaps the characters thought their inane conversation about the validity of exorcism was worth shooting twice? And since actual dialogue seems beyond the writer’s grasp, we’re eventually treated to awkward camera-confessions straight out of The Real World: Vatican City.
It makes one wonder if found-footage films are more complicated to make then you’d think, or if director William Brent Bell learned absolutely nothing in the 5 years since directing the dreadful Stay Alive. At only 83 minutes, you might think the film’s bafflingly anti-climactic ending was an intentional act of mercy, but that would probably give the creators too much credit. So congratulations to all the other awful movies coming out in 2012; you’ve had one hell of a low-bar set by The Devil Inside.
1 out of 5