No Sympathy for the Devil
The Devil Inside is the worst found-footage horror film I have seen. I for one am not opposed to the popular low-budget format, in which a courageous cameraman continues filming despite facing extreme terror situations before, in almost every case, meeting an abrupt, brutal end, leaving rough footage to be discovered, assembled into a film, and exhibited in theatres nationwide. It has produced a few gems, including The Blair Witch Project (still the best), which preyed on every camper's fears in potent, subtle ways, and Cloverfield, which showed Godzilla-esque destruction from the point-of-view of unspectacular people on the street rather than politicians and fighter pilots played by movie stars, perfect for the YouTube era.
This dull and never-frightening film opens with a triple homicide. Two priests and a nun have been torn apart by a suburban wife and mother, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), during an attempted exorcism. Found not guilty for reasons of insanity, Maria is placed in a mental institution in Rome, a stone's throw from the Vatican. The storyline proper begins when her estranged, melancholy daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), and an inquisitive documentarian, Michael (Ionut Grama), fly to Italy to meet Maria, who alternates between catatonia and violence, and interview students at the Vatican's exorcism school, including Englishman Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and American David Keane (Evan Helmuth), two youthful priests who quietly meet with and help possessed people denied aid by the Church. Last year, The Rite with Anthony Hopkins centered on the same school. It received mixed reviews, a few very negative, but with its admirable ensemble cast and atmospheric cinematography, The Rite is Oscar worthy by comparison.
Despite lasting only 85 minutes, including end credits which move very slowly up the screen, The Devil Inside feels too long. It's simply boring. The Rossi family should have been jettisoned entirely. Isabella's supposed angst and grief never rings true due to severe underdevelopment. This is clearly a heartless affair, and it's tedious to watch it pretend otherwise. A film following Fathers Rawlings and Keane as they travel throughout Rome performing multiple exorcisms--a feature-length parade of demon-filled set pieces, more or less--would have been just as mindless, I'm sure, but it at least would have been entertaining. As it stands, this is an exorcism picture long on empty holy exposition and short on the (bone-snapping, projectile-vomiting, profanity-dense) action audiences desire.
I don't blame the cast. There are no good performances here, but I sense a few of the cast members--the charismatic Quarterman in particular as a sympathetic priest with a troubled past--could shine elsewhere. The material here is just too dire. Director/co-writer William Brent Bell, however, deserves an Everest-sized heap of criticism. He shows no ingenuity, a key ingredient in the found-footage sub-genre. Remember the camera attached to an oscillating fan in Paranormal Activity 3 and the dread it inspired? Nothing Bell conjures can hold a candle to it. His approach consists only of nausea-inducing hand-held photography and rapid-fire editing. He never exploits the increased intimacy of the form, instead only using it as a crutch, juddering the camera whenever a effect is required so as to avoid spending too much on it. Even the jump scares--the ol' dog at the fence--feel tepid, staged and completed with minimal effort.
Then there is the ending, which will lose anyone in the audience still trying to care. These movies always end on an abrupt note. It's a staple. But here the end comes just as one feels the third-act action is, at long last, rising. A few interesting plot strands--a demon jumping from person to person--have just begun to emerge. The characters are racing to what we imagine will be an elaborate, complicated multi-person exorcism. "Here we go," one might whisper. But no. It's over. Moviegoers are directed to visit a website to learn more. Groan.