I always enjoy reviewing the first film of the year because, as many of you know, January is largely reserved for contractual releases and studio throwaways. Alas, it’s 2012 and we’ve only 11 months before utter chaos, so I’m savoring the opportunity to rip apart William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside. A faux-documentary, it examines the treacherous world of unauthorized exorcisms, religious conspiracies, and demonic possessions. Playing with the supposed realism, it’s explained that the production was neither endorsed nor funded by religious figureheads, implying that the film is too controversial and revealing for them to touch. But, logically speaking, it was probably the asinine storytelling and dry direction that drove them off.
Inspired by a true story (which, however, is yet to be determined), the film follows Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) the daughter of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), a woman who, during an exorcism, killed three clergymen. Decades later, to discover the cause for her mother’s sudden aggression, she books a flight to Vatican City, where Maria, supposedly insane, is being treated. Alongside Michael (Ionut Grama), an opportunist filmmaker looking for a provocative story, she meets two rogue priests — Ben (Simon Quarterman) and his cowardly accomplice David (Evan Helmuth) who, in spite of their Church’s forbiddance, continue to fight Satan’s disciples.
Contrary to the pair’s observation that “no two [exorcisms] are the same,” movies about them aren’t quite as varied. Bell and his co-writer, Matthew Peterman, barely deliver on the horror conventions they so blatantly borrow. Save for a ritual which takes place in the back of a speeding vehicle, there isn’t a whole lot of originality in The Devil Inside. Ironically, tension that does exist is built on the back of the film’s predictability; with flicks like Paranormal Activity, you’d expect them to toy around with the “found footage” formula. Nevertheless, that never happens, and the ballsiest move pulled is directing audiences online, where they’re told to fill in plot-holes on their own accord.
Adding insult to injury, the story is told with the energy of a vegetable and moves at a snail’s pace. Any atmosphere is overshadowed by sprawling monologues about the Catholic Church and how it’s gone corporate — more troubled in saving face than it is in ending suffering. These babblings raise interesting points but are sloppily thrown in to create the illusion of depth. It’s a shame considering the performers — notably Quarterman and Crowley — are pretty tolerable when not sounding utterly ridiculous reciting said rants. Even Andrade is a decent lead, although much of her charisma is eclipsed by contorting bodies and bass-heavy demonic voices — staples of the sub-genre that are welcome to stay.
Still, I don’t regret seeing The Devil Inside, because admittedly, it was the best theater experience since seeing The Artist. As the credits scrolled, moviegoers cussed their way out the door, ranting about the mess we’d all endured. Amidst the flurry of colorful language, I heard a woman interrogating her husband, “For the love of God, couldn’t they have, at the very least, added another five minutes to explain everything?” To answer her question, God is ranked just below customer satisfaction and good-taste on the list of things Bell doesn’t care about.