The Devil Inside
Posted January 7, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
Has some chilling moments, but it’s counterfeit as a found footage film, and atrocious as storytelling.
Even though The Devil Inside has just been released, you’ve already seen it. The Devil Inside retells the basic story of The Exorcist, but in the faux-documentary fashion of Paranormal Activity. It lacks the authenticity of Paranormal Activity, and while it hits many of the same beats as The Exorcist, it doesn’t have its finesse for storytelling, bearing a prolonged, awkward info-dump after the opening sequence. The Last Exorcism has already attempted the hybrid before, and with better success. So if you’re looking for a good film, look elsewhere. But if all you want are chills, The Devil Inside has its share of creepy moments.
Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) brutally murders three priests during an exorcism. When the judge finds her not guilty by reason of insanity, she’s sent to Centrino Mental Hospital in Rome, where she’s committed. Two decades later, her daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) sets off for Rome to visit her. Filmmaker Michael (Ionut Grama) follows her, documenting what may be a case of demonic possession. She befriends rogue priests Ben and David (Simon Quartermanand and Evan Helmuth), who perform exorcisms without the permission of the Vatican. Ben and David agree to help her, and attempt to save Maria’s soul from the grasp of the devil.
As a narrative, the film doesn’t work well. The first act is just padding. The priests want to show Isabella what a real case of possession looks like before they see her mother, and perform the rite before Isabella’s eyes, while Michael captures it on video. However, the incident doesn’t steer the plot anywhere, doesn’t change anything, and isn’t referred to again, evidence that the film’s premise is flimsy. The priests mention that people can be possessed by multiple entities, but the idea doesn’t get much development, and for the most part, it doesn’t seem to make much difference if you’re possessed by one devil or twenty. Both The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity got steadily worse as the films went on, but The Devil Inside maintains the same level of shock horror throughout, without peaking the way it should. The ending is predictable—as is much of the film—yet abrupt, leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction and confusion. Before the credits roll, title cards point the audience to a website for more information, which just underscores how little in the movie is actually resolved. In other words, it’s setting itself up for a sequel.
As a found footage film, The Devil Inside comes across as counterfeit. The original Paranormal Activity had no script, and the actors improvised their lines. Here, it feels like actors reading lines and hitting their marks. I’m all for scripts, but not when the film is trying to pass itself off as verite. I did appreciate that the camera is on auto-focus for much of the film, and gets blurry when switching subjects—it’s messy, but appropriate. However, there are random, unmotivated cuts in the opening sequence, and the use of slow-motion in the end that draw attention to the film as a created work of fiction, and detract from the authenticity the film is going for. Michael has an unusual number of cameras for an indie documentary filmmaker, and when you think about it, found footage films should never be shot with multiple cameras to begin with, considering how the genre works.
However, the truth about horror films is that they don’t have to be good, they just have to be good enough, and more importantly, scary. In that sense, The Devil Inside gets the job done. There’s a jump-scare and a “he’s right behind you!” moment that don’t work, but overall, the possession scenes are tense, frightening—and convincing. Unexpected events unfold during the possessions, filling the scenes with a sense of confusion and panic. The sound design is spot on, as the voice of the devil bellows through the hospital room. I liked the way the video equipment reacted to the presence of a violent, supernatural entity, which is beyond the reach of science and technology. Now, I’ve seen scarier films, but I’ve also seen thrillers that don’t (The Darkest Hour, Prom Night). It’s unfortunate the film’s ending is so badly wanting, but up till then, The Devil Inside can be a chilling ride.