Directed by: William Brent Bell
Premise: A pseudo-documentary about an American woman who travels to Rome to investigate the demonic possession of her mother.
What Works: The Devil Inside has some interesting supporting performances by Evan Helmuth and Simon Quarterman as a pair of exorcists. When priests are portrayed in film they are often caricatures but Helmuth and Quarterman manage to make their priests into real men who are in a struggle with evil.
What Doesn’t: The Devil Inside fails to be scary in even the most basic way. Part of the problem is the sense that the viewer has literally seen much of this before. The Devil Inside rips off a lot of other movies, from the introductory sequence that is taken wholesale from the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to the possession scenes that borrow heavily from The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Rite, and the ending that echoes the conclusion of The Blair Witch Project. Because so much of this picture is familiar it works against the allure of a found footage picture. The primary strength of a pseudo-documentary is the appearance of authenticity; even though audiences are aware that they are seeing a fictional work, the found footage style often allows viewers to suspend their disbelief in a very powerful way. But when the imagery and scenarios are borrowed from other pictures, as is done so heavily in The Devil Inside, that renders moot the strength of the form. The pseudo-documentary illusion is also spoied by a lot of incredible scenarios or stupid choices by the characters, such as being allowed to shoot a documentary in a hospital (this would certainly violate privacy laws) or leaving a hospital visitor alone in a room with a violent patient. The Devil Inside also suffers from a lack of understanding about its own genre. The horror of a possession story is similar to the scares in a disease film; what is frightening is the idea that a foreign entity might get inside and take us over, stealing the victim’s identity and ravaging the body. That, combined with tension between faith and reason, is often central to making a possession film work. The Devil Inside does not develop these themes well enough. The film has no struggle for control between the demonic forces and their intended target nor is there much of a conflict between the supernatural and the priests. The Devil Inside has the kernel of some interesting ideas but none of them are developed in an interesting way; the priests of the film are renegades acting outside the authority of the Catholic Church by performing exorcisms on their own. The film is on the cusp of something interesting but it is unclear if The Devil Inside is intended to be a liberal critique of hierarchy or a conservative reinforcement of traditional authority. Even trying to understand the story in those terms might be giving the filmmakers of The Devil Inside too much credit. What seems clearest is that the filmmakers don’t really know what they are doing and that is a shame because there is an excellent film about exorcism ripe for the making. 2010’s The Last Exorcism, despite being ruined by a stupid ending, was an example of how the possession genre can be used in way that is simultaneously thoughtful and frightening. But The Devil Inside marches out a lot of possession tropes without even doing them very well and the whole film is a tedious exercise.
Bottom Line: The Devil Inside is a lazy attempt to cash in on the overplayed found footage trend in the horror genre. This film manages to make the demonic boring, which ought to be the biggest storytelling sin of all.
Episode: #373 (January 29, 2012)