The Devil Inside

The Devil Inside


Reviewed by: David Graham

You kind of have to feel sorry for exorcism flicks: they have awfully big boots to fill, even 40 years on from William Friedkin's indisputable daddy of the genre. Despite their recent proliferation (and apart from a few notable exceptions such as the neo-realist Requiem and the courtroom-drama-structured Exorcism Of Emily Rose), they really haven't changed much or moved forward at all, so it was an inspired choice for The Last Exorcism to adopt the found footage approach. Having a bogus exorcist as its lead character was also a savvy move, attempting to double bluff the audience into buying the reality of the situation. So it's a shame that The Devil Inside arrives with Daniel Stamm's indie hit so fresh in the collective memory, because director William Brent Bell's offering really isn't as bad as you may've been led to believe; it's just unfortunate that it shares many of its predecessor's flaws, and doesn't exactly hit its heights either.

Isabella Rossi has grown up haunted by the past: in the late Eighties, her mother murdered two priests and a nun during her own exorcism. Since her mother was found insane, Isabella has worried that she may one day go the same way, and so she determines to visit a Vatican-sanctioned mental institution in Rome where a family reunion will hopefully bring some closure. Taking along a documentarian, Isabella becomes involved with two student priests, who convince her that the only way for her to understand and therefore believe in possession is to witness an exorcism herself. As the horrors they're exposed to take their toll, the group realise they may be endangering their own souls as well.

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After the obligatory hokey disclaimer, the film shows early promise with satirically cheesy period news reports, leading into an authentically procedural crime scene tape. The workmanlike attitude of the officers makes the aftermath all the more chilling, so it's a little disappointing that Brell can't resist throwing in a stock found footage fright attempt, which fails miserably. Brell then toys with the mockumentary style, with a slyly amusing series of talking heads, voice-overs and intimate moments that are edited together with a tacky soundtrack to genuinely evoke the sort of trashy ghost-hunting 'reality' shows that Channel 5 specialises in.

Sadly, the mixture of formats (aside from failing to make aesthetic sense) means that when Brell finally settles on the found footage approach, there hasn't been a consistent enough build-up to immerse the viewer in that crucial sense of here-and-now tension. The already derivative set-pieces may be fairly entertaining - there're plenty of body-defying histrionics and demonically foul outbursts of obscenity - but they just aren't frightening enough, while the choice of multiple possessed protagonists dilutes the potential menace.

The acting is much better than the embarrassing trailer would suggest; indeed, many of the film's best moments involve the interaction between the believably conflicted Fernanda Andrade and the priestly tag team of Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth, the former nicely resolute without tipping into unnecessary intensity while the latter journeys from pragmatism to panic in convincing fashion. Suzan Crowley's crazy/possessed routine is also more impressive than you'd expect, only spilling into caricature when Brell deigns to imbue her with superhuman strength and telekinetic abilities.

The script paints an intriguing picture of the politics of the practice; we learn of the Church's tick-list of symptoms, as well as their hypocritical judgments and refusal to publicise the problem. As hackneyed as the plot may be, the film remains engaging if not exactly riveting throughout. Inevitably though, a final straw is broken with another piss-take of an ending, coming like a slap in the face to paying cinema-goers. It does leave a few less loose ends than usual, but frustratingly the central possessions don't feel satisfactorily resolved, feeling like a let-down in retrospect because they haven't been followed up, while the cut-to-black finality makes the TV show format seem like an afterthought.

Like The Rite, a matter-of-fact attitude serves the film well, and like The Last Exorcism, many of the shocks that elsewhere might have been shoddily CGI-assisted are instead supplied by wicked contortionism (an under-appreciated trade that Hollywood seems quite taken with of late). However, The Devil Inside falls between the two stools those films represent in terms of quality; it's neither as excruciatingly lame as Anthony Hopkins' effort nor as ingeniously subversive as its Eli Roth-produced forebear.

All in all, it's not quite the unmitigated disaster many have already so enthusiastically claimed, but The Devil Inside's unwarranted and extensive marketing campaign unfortunately means it's never going to live up to the unrealistic expectations it's been burdened with. It's certainly a slight improvement on Brell's last outing - the execrable Stay Alive - but his performers and his audience deserve better.

Reviewed on: 19 Mar 2012
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A woman goes in search of the truth about her mother, who allegedly killed three people during an exorcism 20 years ago.
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