Well into The Devil Inside, the latest “found footage” exorcism film to hit the screen, the camera is turned on the documentarian filmmaker responsible for all of the footage we’ve been watching. He has just witnessed something astounding and nerve-rattling and – gazing into the camera’s lens, looking at the audience – he offers, “I’ve got nothing to say.”
To us, the audience, perhaps it is a moment of levity, a tension breaker. What could he possibly have to say after what he has seen? On another level, that statement accurately depicts the film as a whole. It has nothing to say and is a half-baked exercise in the “found footage” sub-genre. And just when things are getting slightly interesting – albeit a bit silly – it abruptly calls the story quits.
The Devil Inside follows a young woman, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), who allows a documentarian into her life as she travels to Rome to reconnect with her mother, Maria. Ol’ mom has been institutionalized because, in the late-‘80s, she killed three people in her Hartford, Connecticut home during a botched exorcism. Naturally, Isabella’s meeting with her presumed-lunatic mother doesn’t go so well, so Isabella turns to two exorcists to find out if Maria is mentally ill or truly possessed.
The film – scripted by director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman (the duo behind 2006’s killer video game flick Stay Alive) – presents no internal struggle for Isabella. No question of faith. This is a girl who appears pretty resolute: She knows her mom’s possessed; she’s simply looking for truth. There’s nothing to emotionally embed us in her situation, the viewer is merely carried through a lackluster “jump scare”-a-thon that is missing a soul.
Only briefly does The Devil Inside hint at a conceit more promising than what we were given. The two priests Isabella turns to, David and Ben (Evan Helmuth and Simon Quarterman), have quietly been on their own mission, outside of the Vatican’s gaze, investigating cases their church has turned its back on. Why The Devil Inside wasn’t simply about the adventures of these two vigilante priests, I do not know, because their back story – as quickly as it is told – is far more engaging and presents larger themes worth exploring about the Vatican’s questionable system. As is stands now, The Devil Inside skirts the idea of giving us anything cerebral to chew on. But as I said, there are jump scares a-plenty, and they’re a mixed bag.
A dog is actually used as a fright device, a welcome change from a cat, I suppose. Bell borrows heavily from “Rubber Johnny” for one sequence, making one believe he might not have anything new to offer the audience, yet he redeems himself with a decent exorcism sequence involving a bloody crotch and one helluva contortionist. He also makes terrific use of actress Suzan Crowley with her absorbing, crazy eyes (although the “Connecticut”/“Connect a cut” rambling was ridiculous).
The Devil Inside starts to fly off the handle when the concept of possession infiltrates Isabella’s group. The story forgoes the slow-burn, subtle approach to make you question whether this team is succumbing to the stresses of their investigation or if “something supernatural” is involved and embraces a more visceral take that involves a lot of screaming, gnashing teeth, flailing limbs and more contortionist antics. And rather than find a resolution to all of this…the filmmakers pull out and the movie ends. Furthermore, a pre-credits title card tells the audience to go to a specific website to learn more clues as to what happened in this investigation.
Ambiguity is welcome in this genre. But this ending isn’t ambiguous, it’s just flat-out lazy. I’d like to think that somewhere in Paramount’s vaults, a final reel exists, completing the film’s story, but if it is anything like the mediocre events that preceed it, I think I’ll pass.
Rating: 4 out of 10