THE DEVIL INSIDE
* (out of 5)
January 6, 2012
Fernanda Andrade as ISABELLA ROSSI
Simon Quarterman as BEN
Evan Helmuth as DAVID
Ionut Grama as MICHAEL
Suzan Crowley as MARIA ROSSI
Directed by: William Brent Bell
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The first week of January is a strange time for me. On one hand, January is a notorious dumping ground for some of the worst films from the studios. On the other hand, it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie in the midst of award season that has no chance in hell of winning any sort of award.
Last year, we got Nicolas Cage as a mullet-sporting Crusades deserter in the murky “Season of the Witch.” And while that movie was far from good, there was a certain cheesy entertainment value that went along with it. (Of course, Hollywood didn’t let this slide too long as they released the truly awful “No Strings Attached,” “The Roommate” and “Big Momma: Like Father, Like Son” in the following weeks.)
This year, we’re not so lucky for that first week of new releases. We get yet another exorcism movie, yet another horror movie released about as far from October as you can possibly get. Distributed by Paramount’s new low-budget label Paramount Insurge, “The Devil Inside” seeks to recreate the lightning in a bottle that we saw with “Paranormal Activity” in 2009. However, unlike that clever, subtle and neat theatrical experience, “The Devil Inside” fails at almost every level.
Shot as a fake documentary with an into and end to suggest found footage (which is quickly becoming a cliche in modern cinema), “The Devil Inside” tells the story of a woman named Isabella who is trying to learn more about her institutionalized mother who killed three people during an exorcism in 1989. Isabella travels to Rome where the Vatican has kept her mother in a mental hospital for years. She infiltrates a Vatican-run class on exorcism (even though the film clearly states that the Vatican doesn’t allow any documentation of exorcisms or their training) and meets some rogue priests who wish to help her with her mother’s case.
Part of the appeal of a found footage movie like this is the cinéma vérité feel of shooting in real locations on the fly. The production gleefully rubs in the Vatican’s face the fact that they were able to shoot around Vatican City and even sneak into St. Peter’s Square with their consumer-grade camera posing as tourists. On one hand, I think this is a clever use of mockumentary filmmaking. However, the filmmakers bust their own illusion.
The bulk of the film takes place in Rome, but everyone inexplicably speaks English… even the priests running and attending the class on exorcisms. Rather than dealing with multiple subtitles for realism sake, half the characters speak in bad Italian accents, sounding like a group of third graders pretending to run a pizzeria. In fact, in one scene, the priests and Isabella perform an exorcism on a Roman teenage girl (who, despite being permanently twisted in knots by the demon inside, still has shaved armpits), the mother speaks in broken English to the priest. Apparently the filmmakers never heard the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”
There are a few scares, but they’re cheap scares, mostly relying on loud noises and jump-startles. Whenever the exorcism subject screams, the audio becomes distorted even if it makes no sense for it to do so. On a similar note, the production value is deliberately poor. Even though this is ostensibly shot by an experienced documentary filmmaker, the camera jiggles like the operator is suffering withdrawal, with the focus coming in and out and the lens zooming in and out for no reason. This makes the film truly nauseating to watch.
And there’s no care or sense of realism from the exorcism moments. Rather than working with the rites of exorcism, which is easily found during a quick Google search. Instead, it appears the filmmakers watched “The Exorcist” once several years ago and just reenacted the scenes from memory. Instead of following any structure, they just run into the room and scream at the subject, pressing crosses and holy stoles against her face. It’s embarrassing, really.
Finally, there’s the atrocious ending, which has people literally booing at screenings across the country. I won’t spoil it for anyone wanting to throw money down the sewer after this film, but it’s probably one of the weakest endings to a movie I’ve seen in years. And it is the first time I can remember hearing anyone boo in a movie. That really takes some doing.
According to the advertisements and the opening titles to this film, the Vatican did not endorse “The Devil Inside.” (This, of course, begs the question of what movies the Vatican did endorse? Because I doubt they endorsed movies like “Pootie Tang” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”) Smart move, Vatican. It’s not that “The Devil Inside” is a terrible movie. It’s just a stupid movie. And that’s even worse than being a terrible one.