While waiting in line to buy my ticket for The Devil Inside, I heard a conversation behind me between two girls in which one was explaining to the other how their film of choice was supposed to suck and was terrible according to all the reviews. I immediately turned to ask what film they were discussing and was less than surprised when they confirmed my suspicion that it indeed was the film I was about to spend hard-earned money on.
I sighed and cursed loudly at my disappointment of having to sit through a crappy film when I have yet to see The Muppets or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, when The Devil Inside ended and an uproar of anger among the audience happened, I felt a strange sense of confusion about why I enjoyed it so much and why everyone else saw no redeeming qualities in it.
Earning a mere 7% on Rotten Tomatoes and being universally panned by critics and audiences members alike, I realize that this review may enrage those who saw and disliked The Devil Inside but alas I will attempt to explain why I not only enjoyed it but was actually impressed as well. The Devil Inside follows Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), a twenty something partaking in a documentary to capture her travel to Rome, Italy to visit to her mother Marisa in a mental institution for the criminally insane.
In 1989, Marisa ( Suzan Crowley) brutally murdered two priests and a nun while they performed an exorcism on her. Isabella is told of the events a few months prior to filming, thus deciding to document her desire to discover whether her mother is truly insane or possessed. With the help of her cameraman Mike (Ionut Grama) and two priests, Fathers Ben (Simon Quaterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), Isabella and the group attempt to free Marisa and other victims of the dangerous and terrifying presence that seem to control them.
The Devil Inside is a docudrama, not a documentary, not a story based on facts, or even some hidden story needing exposure. It’s just your average fictional horror film, yet director William Brent Bell and his writing partner Matthew Peterman do a an impressive job of trying to convince you otherwise, even going as far as to prompting viewers to “learn more” through a website promoted during the credits. After the film I overheard the following conversation:
Man: Are you going to go to that site?
Woman: Hell no, I’m not going to that crap, it’s fake for the movie.
Man: No, it’s not. It’s based on real stuff… that actually happened.
There are no captions within the film that tell you the events are real. It just looks real, at times too real, making the film’s aesthetics its most impressive element. The entire movie is made to look like an edited and decently produced documentary. It features the characters all talking in first person to the camera about their experiences and reasons of interest in exorcism. Scholars are interviewed on the subject and real pictures and videos of the actors are edited together with movie images to create a realistic history and atmosphere between characters.
The filming process is made visible to audiences and often becomes the focus of many scenes. Isabella at one point enters a car and is filmed asking the cameraman about where each of her cameras are and which one she is supposed to talk to. Also throughout the film anger is directed at Mike for his passiveness behind the camera and desire to capture the action instead of helping the subjects. Raising awareness of the filming process isn’t a new concept, but it’s a respectable technique that engages audience enough to provoke a scream or jump at the actions of characters and the shocking behaviors of the possessed.
“You’re going to like this movie, whether I have to force you or not!”
Its major problem, however, is that it takes itself too seriously as it seems to actually forget that it’s merely a fictional film and not a real documentary. The film ends rather abruptly causing many moviegoers to loudly and collectively discuss their anger for feeling neglected. One member shouted “Well, that sucked” and others agreed with laughter. During mass murmurs of disappointment, another audience member commented that she likes for her movies to end happily. I looked back and responded by saying sometimes ambiguous endings are what make a film good. She proceeded to tell me to me to eat shit by rolling her eyes.
Many will despise The Devil Inside for its lack of answers in the ending or lack thereof and that anger is more than justified. Multiple questions are brought up and new character developments arise throughout the film, however, little to no answers are delivered by its end. It’s a smug and arrogant choice to not give the audience an ending to a story or solution to a problem. It would be like watching The Sixth Sense and never knowing that Bruce Willis was dead or watching The Usual Suspects and never knowing who Keyser Soze is. It would even be like reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and never knowing what happened after he got that glass of milk.
Ok he’s got the cookie and milk but now what?? Tell me!!!
Yet the film nerd in me that has seen enough paper thin endings that happen just for the sake of a conclusion actually enjoyed being left with such a dismal ending. Instead of being giving some crappy setup to a sequel or a last minute scare The Devil Inside ends in a way that only makes sense in the situation that it set up.
While it’s an overall intriguing and engaging film, Bell obviously spent more time trying to raise a reaction from his audience instead of perfect the film. The acting leaves much to be desired as the main two actors, Andrade and Quaterman, deliver slightly stale and bland performances. Bell also depends too much on the camera to lead the film, clearly not learning from complaints delivered at films such as Cloverfield for its shaky distracting effect.
“Just stand here and look blank? Ok gotcha.”
The Devil Inside isn’t a perfect horror film but it does a great job of creating a thick air of tension and leaving viewer uncomfortable and disturbed by the time the credits roll. While I despise the recent trend in films to further promote through viral marketing and contrived websites, I forgive The Devil Inside only because the journey to get to the end, no matter how inconclusive it was, made for a pretty intense ride and the commentary of religious duality and religious conservatism was engaging. Obviously influenced by its predecessors The Blair Witch Project, Rec, and the Paranormal Activities movies, The Devil Inside’s biggest flaw is the fact that it came too late after a trend of paranormal docudramas, although I don’t recommend completely writing it off because of that.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone doubts demon possession
Take a Drink: every time a demon sexually harasses a priest
Take a Drink: every time you see a camera
Drink a Shot: for every time an audience member laughs out of fear