22 March 2012

Review: The Devil Inside

(Dir: William Brent Bell, 2012)

Why is it that recent films about exorcism have been so rubbish? Over the last two years there's been The Rite, which was terminally slow and uneventful, and before that the execrable The Last Exorcism which completely failed with a vaguely interesting concept. Even worse, both of these films lacked much in the way of horror, something pretty crucial to a film wanting to play with the devil. I recently wrote an admittedly lengthy blog post on what I think of current horror, in which I complained that I can’t go into a horror film these days without worrying that it will be awful. In the same post I also admitted to my fascination with Satanic based horror movies. Thus I went into The Devil Inside with very conflicting expectations.

The reality is I shouldn’t have bothered watching The Devil Inside. It's not a film worthy of my time and it's not worthy of your time either, and it just served to reinforce my thoughts that modern horror seems to be becoming more and more irrelevant. I want to try and approach this fairly. The Devil Inside follows Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), who travels from the US to Rome to discover if her estranged mother (Suzan Crowley) really is possessed. The Catholic church locked her in a mental institution in Rome twenty years earlier after she killed three people during an exorcism being performed on her. Isabella also wants to learn more about this elusive topic and befriends two young priests in the city (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth), both of whom are trained exorcists but have issues with the church’s blind and dismissive attitude on the subject.

Let’s talk some mild positives as there are a couple. Andrade was likeable in the lead role – there was nothing noteworthy about her performance but she made her character sympathetic. I appreciated that the film attempted to cover exorcism from a theological perspective and analyse it, even if it didn’t come across convincingly. The first exorcism has maybe one or two interesting elements to it, localised bleeding for example, amidst the hackneyed way it approaches things. Fortunately it’s a short film at only 83 minutes including credits, but despite that I was still getting bored. That’s all I can offer on the positive front, so where to start on the negatives...?

The story. The initial premise is solid but the route the story ends up going down is not. It’s all obvious and done in a manner that feels frustratingly dumb, leading to an ending which seems as if someone chose a completely random point in the film at which to place the end credits. The film literally just ends with no explanation and no conclusion, which makes you wonder if they run out of funding three quarters of the way through production, or they just gave up because they knew they were making a really bad film? Someone in the audience loudly exclaimed “what, is that it!? That’s how it ends!?” when the credits came up. There were only ten of us watching; if there’d been a bigger audience I would not have been surprised to hear mass booing. It’s a film desperately crying out for some creativity.

The horror. Or rather the lack of horror. The film wasn’t remotely scary or shocking even – it still amazes me that a film with this subject can achieve that. There's no real pay-off, which horror films need, and the filmmakers just threw in every exorcism cliché they could think of; yes there's a demonic voice and lots of swearing, yes there's ridiculous body contortions that just look stupid and yes of course things move and shake without anyone touching them. It just feels oh so tired and makes you beg for a new interesting way to show this. And no the mother isn't scary because she says nonsensical crap like "connect the cuts" and has an inverted crucifix on her bottom lip. 

The shooting style. The whole film is shot as a documentary by a character called Michael (Ionut Grama). He is the only "crew" but he has a couple of miniature cameras that can be mounted places to give us multiple camera angles, and both he and the cameras are frequently seen. Scenes frequently jump a few days at a time making you wonder what you've missed in between. "Experts" are interviewed, people talk to the camera. It’s supposed to make it all feel real. It doesn’t work. No atmosphere or feelings of dread are allowed to build and rather than being more involving, this style just distances the viewer from what's on screen. Add to this stupid inconsistencies, such as showing a wide shot of a room and the cameraman Michael is missing, when the previous shot was from his camera where he would've had to be right in the middle of the room to be filming. Such illogical things just frustrate.

The elephant in the room - The Exorcist. I don’t need to explain here why The Exorcist is one of the greatest films ever made, but its legacy has left a lot to answer for as many inferior films try to copy its ideas and fail miserably. None of these can match its atmosphere, its intelligence, its control, its ability to shock and the power it holds. And it is some power. In comparison The Devil Inside just seems pathetic and totally anaemic. I hate to have to use The Exorcist comparison, but I wouldn’t have to do so if I was talking about a much better film. 

To summarise... The Devil Inside is a completely unsatisfying film due to a frustrating plot that doesn't really make sense, leading to one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen. The shooting style and structure is completely wrong for this story and the biggest sin of all, it’s a horror film that’s not even remotely scary or shocking. Avoid this film as it's not worth your time in any measure, no matter how curious you may be that it can’t be as bad as described.

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