Another horror film in the mock-documentary style, 2012’s The Devil Inside was a substantial hit on its release, but a spectacularly misjudged online marketing campaign and the creative bankruptcy and cynicism of the project has seen it almost instantly forgotten.
The movie applied the mock-doc format to the exorcism sub-genre which was already oversubscribed three years ago, but which is still booming in the DTV dreck market. In 1989 Maria Rossi was arrested for committing a triple murder in the US. In 2009 her daughter Isabella agrees to take part in the making of a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Catholic Church’s practice of exorcism.
Isabella wants to meet her mother, who is now interned in a psychiatric hospital in Rome, and find out why she did these terrible things. After arriving in Rome Isabella and cameraman visit the Vatican’s exorcist school. After interviewing some of the students they hook up with two young priests Ben and David who are performing the rite of exorcism outside of Vatican control.
Father Ben insists that Isabella will learn more in three minutes of a real exorcism than in three years of lectures and invites her along to their next gig. After this the priests agree to make Isabella’s mother their next victim [cough] I mean subject.
Nothing in this film makes any sense, and I’m not talking about any personal views about faith or Catholicism, those are checked at the door when going to see a movie like this just as personal opinions about the existence of life on Mars are when viewing John Carter. No, the film itself fails to establish any internal logic. No-one behaves in a credible way at any point. Despite the fact that the renegade priests risk excommunication by performing unauthorised exorcisms they are perfectly happy to be filmed for a documentary. The documentary filmmaker (there is just one) seems to have supernatural powers of his own. He is able to gain access to one of the Vatican’s most controversial colleges, gets priests to speak to him with awkward no questions, and is allowed to set up cameras in a mental hospital for the criminally insane.
Director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman are laughably unconcerned with making the film appear to be a convincing documentary in any way, shape or form. There are some early scenes with talking heads and the like, but the filmmakers either don’t have the talent or the inclination to sustain this. The documentary crew, consists of a single camera guy called Michael, who is able to install incredibly complicated remote camera set ups in minutes, film, do the sound, and edit the film as he goes along. The guy is a superman. And yet despite this, he can’t afford a tripod.
There isn’t a single plot-line in the film that is developed to fruition. You may have seen the (rather good) trailer, with the possessed mother muttering “connect the cuts” before revealing that she has been slicing inverted crosses into her flesh. This goes no further, but it does make you wonder how a convicted multiple murderer with violent tendencies and the desire to self harm is permitted to have pencils in her room? In fact how in the hell did she end up in a psychiatric hospital in Rome anyway? She committed three murders in the USA as a US citizen, as far as I know the US and Italy have never had an extradition agreement for cases of demonic possession.
The Vatican and the exorcism school are mere exposition, once they have served their purpose they are forgotten. There is a lot of blurb at the start of the film about how the Catholic Church has not endorsed it, but there is zero attempt to present exorcism in any kind of depth. Where The Exorcist spent so much time on ritual and discussions of faith, this movie just says “nah, boring”. In comparison to this, the recent big budget film The Rite looks like an episode of Panorama.
There isn’t a frame in The Devil Inside that isn’t ripped off, and every partly effective moment is stolen from either The Exorcist, The Rite, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, in fact any demonic possession film you have ever seen (except Requiem). All of which would be somewhat excusable if the film was at least scary. Fat chance. The scares mostly consist of EXTREMELY LOUD NOISES, or things suddenly rushing at the camera. Half way through it ceases to be a rip off of The Exorcist and turns into a rip off of Paranormal Activity. The last 20 minutes are so monumentally stupid I had to breath into a paper bag to stop hyperventilating.
Then there is the ending, I’m not going to spoil it, although I really, really want to, just to warn you off. The Devil Inside’s ending could not be more of an insult if it slapped your mother and spat in your face. It is the result of filmmakers thinking that their audience are cretins to whom the can serve up a bowl of maggot infested gruel and they will say “thank you sir. Can I have some more?” If The Apprentice was about filmmaking this is the sort of get it out the door, make a quick buck, and run away before the audience goes “Oi!” crap that business gargoyle/guru Alan Sugar would endorse. This is a stupid, egregious, wet dog turd of a film, and I advise you not to step in it.
This review first appeared on screenjabber.com