When I go to the movies, I go in with a positive attitude. I genuinely want to like what I’m watching because I don’t want to waste my time and my money. I have been watching movies for over thirty years, and this is the first time I have ever wanted to go to a theater manager and ask for my money back.
[Big Spoilers Ahead]
Yes, I’m going to discuss plot, but if you have seen other found-footage exorcism films, then you know what happens. ‘The Devil Inside’ offers nothing new to the genre.
The film has a promising start. ‘The Devil Inside’ is more than a found-footage film like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ or ‘Paranormal Activity.’ The film is a fake documentary with news footage and interviews with experts on mental disorders and exorcisms, and I appreciate that the film is more than just shaking camera moves. Isabella Rossi’s mother, Maria, killed three people about twenty years ago. Maria killed them during an exorcism being performed on her. Before he died, Isabella’s father told her that her mother was transferred to a mental institution in Rome. Isabella thinks her mother was transferred to cover up the truth about the failed exorcism. To help her discover the truth, she enlists the aid of documentary filmmaker Michael Schaefer and travels to Italy.
The beginning of the film raises the question, “Are there things science can’t explain?” However, this question is quickly dropped. When Isabella visits a class at the exorcism school, the film takes the stance of demon possession is fact. Although the instructor discusses how the professional exorcist must rule out epilepsy, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders before performing an exorcism, when Isabella teams with renegade priests Ben and David, the film pushes aside any doubt about demonic possession and becomes a tirade about how the Vatican makes it difficult to help the demonically possessed. According to the film, witnessing one exorcism is enough. One is proof. No other evidence needed.
The promotion for the film suggests the story centers on Maria, of curing her demonic possession, but that ball is dropped too. Isabella visits her mother twice. During the first visit, Isabella is shocked that her mother knows about her terminated pregnancy; she hasn’t seen her mother in twenty years, so there is no possible way her mother should have that knowledge. The second visit is the unauthorized exorcism. Ben and David investigate cases rejected by the Catholic Church and perform exorcisms on their own. Are they successful? The film really never answers that question. There is no follow up to the first exorcism we see, the one involving Rosa, and we never see Maria again. I doubt they are successful; those of us versed in cinematic exorcisms know you need a young priest and an old priest. Ben and David are young priests. Not a good sign.
After the session with Maria is when the film falls apart. Because multiple demonic possession and demonic transference is discussed during the classroom scene, we know where the film is headed, and the latter parts of the film are abbreviated and rushed. The film is 87 minutes, so not a lot of time is dedicated to exploring many ideas introduced throughout the story, especially about Ben. Ben’s uncle was an exorcist, and his death was investigated by the church. The demon possessing Maria accuses Ben of wanting his uncle dead. Is that true? Why would Ben want his uncle dead? Was Ben’s uncle possessed as a result of an exorcism gone wrong? Who knows? The film abandons examining any interesting topics in favor of throwing a string of predictable events at the viewer.
What makes the string of predictable events less than entertaining is the combination of obviousness and absence of scares. ‘The Devil Inside’ has mood, but the slow build of the beginning does not produce any really scary moments during the film. The sounds of the twisting bodies are cringe-inducing, and the sequence that leads to David’s death is tense, but because there is no question about what is happening to David, the final moment isn’t that terrifying. The thin plot and characters prevent the audience from investing in the story. Without that investment, the opportunities for horror are reduced.
The most disappointing part of the film is the ending, which I am going to reveal. One of the most basic rules of filmmaking is the end must be stronger than the beginning. ‘The Devil Inside’ has one of the worst endings I’ve seen. After David dies, Isabella collapses because the demon takes hold. At the hospital, she attacks someone and is sedated. Ben and Michael take Isabella; Ben wants to fix things, so he plans on getting help from another priest. Ben and Isabella are in the back seat of the car. Michael drives. Watching the change in Michael as he becomes possessed is interesting, but instead of helping Isabella get away, Michael drives into an oncoming vehicle. The last shot is the three of them unconscious (or dead) in the car.
Text appears on the screen informing the audience that the events surrounding the Rossi case remain unresolved. If the audience wants to be a part of the ongoing investigation, they should visit a website.
A website. To quote the person in front of me, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Dear makers of ‘The Devil Inside,’ 1999 called and asked for its concept back.
This is the first time I feel the urge to say these words in a review: Avoid this movie. Save yourself time and money. If interested, you can visit the website and wait for the movie to come out on cable.