The Devil Inside performed strongly at the box office despite both critic and audience indignation. Is it as bad as its reputation suggests?
I’m not surprised The Devil Inside spent time at the top of the box office. The decent but familiar marketing campaign (“This is the scariest film you’ll ever see”) and distant promise of another great Blair Witch-style found footage compilation was more than enough to get audiences into theatres. Its surprising box office performance (the film was made for $1 million and returned over $100 million) appears to gloss over audience indignation and genuine frustration towards a film that drastically, and dramatically, loses its way after a promising start. At best, The Devil Inside is a competently choreographed found-footage horror film with a woefully underwritten second half; at worst, it has not a single redeeming feature aside from speedily regurgitating a bunch of clichés and an ending that has to be seen in order to fully appreciate its overarching horribleness.
And yet it could have been a whole lot better. The film begins with a television news report depicting the aftermath of a violent murder during the late 1980s. Three people have been brutally killed. Through the police’s own crime scene video footage, we have a walk-through tour of a messy house, the handheld, non-professional camera operator shakily working his way towards the basement, blood leading the route. There we find three dead bodies and a wooden chair in the middle of the room, restraining straps fixed to the arms. It appears the three people have been murdered while performing an exorcism.
Flash forward twenty years and Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), in her research of exorcisms, is on her way to a Rome mental institution to visit her mother Maria. It turns out it was Maria that was strapped to the chair all those years ago, and it was her that had supposedly killed those three people. Tracked by a cameraman documenting her findings, Isabella goes to visit her mother after many years apart. Maria appears to be mentally incapacitated and does not acknowledge Isabella as her daughter. Believing the only way to help her is through exorcism, the young woman enlists the help of two rogue priests who have set up a little side project performing exorcisms without the permission of the Catholic Church. Isabella’s first job is convincing the priests her mother is really possessed.
“At best, The Devil Inside is a competently choreographed found-footage horror film with a woefully underwritten second half; at worst, it has not a single redeeming feature aside from speedily regurgitating a bunch of clichés and an ending that has to be seen in order to fully appreciate its overarching horribleness.”
After about fifteen minutes of The Devil Inside I wondered how this film could have gotten such terrible reviews from critics. The set-up is great and the opening sequence involving the police footage of the crime scene is effective in its execution and appropriately unsettling. However, the film peaks too soon. It is all down hill from here. Despite credibility being thrown out of the window – something you can allow for given this is about ghosts and demonic possession – there are far too many plot holes. Director William Brent Bell takes things far too seriously given the shaky foundations of a plot that eventually spirals out of control. Even the things that aren’t supernatural are unconvincing. For example, the security policies of a Rome mental institution (would they really allow two medically unqualified people to interrogate a known murderer all on their own; someone previously, on numerous occasions, videoed attacking doctors?).
It is perhaps a tad unfair to criticise the more paranormal elements of the film given you must suspend your disbelief even for the best exponents of this concept. However, with the walls of plausibility falling down all around, it is easy to pick holes in just about everything else. It also, disconcertingly, diverts into new territory in the second half. Essentially The Devil Inside isn’t half a film, but two halves of two different films joined together. Suffice to say, they do not make a whole.
The film’s worst misstep is its sudden preoccupation with the transference of evil entities. Now we have a spirit jumping from person to person it seems. What it does is take away from the somewhat interesting concept of solving a historical crime, favouring instead to run around in the dark wondering who’ll be next. It means the final part of the film has little to do with the beginning, plot strands are sent to the recycling bin without resolution, and any hint of real drama is extinguished by a nonsensical script that hasn’t got a clue where it is going. When the credits roll you won’t be praying for mercy, you’ll be demanding your money and your time back.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews