The Devil Inside arrives in the UK riding a wave of near universal hatred from both audiences and critics in America. Paramount will be laughing their way to the bank as, despite poisonous word of mouth, the film to date has grossed over ninety-one million dollars from a budget of just one million, an impressive feat considering its box office dropped 76% in its second week. Yet, once the hyperbole of hatred has passed, what else will be remembered from a film that has garnered so much hostility? Very little will most likely be the answer.
Opting for the faux-documentary aesthetic rather than full blown found-footage, The Devil Inside details the investigation of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), who, in 1989, murdered three members of her church during an exorcism performed on herself. Twenty years later (the film is set in late 2009), her daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) opts to investigate the matter further, enlisting a documentary film crew to capture events and probe deeper into the mystery.
There is promise here. The opening moments, in which we hear the 911 call placed by the supposedly possessed Maria along with crime scene footage of the murders’ aftermath, are effective in creating unease. With the extreme saturation that has all but destroyed any credibility the found footage genre once had, it’s impressive to see that the faux-documentary route still holds some weight. And for the next half-hour, the film kind of works, if you look past the often pedestrian pacing and questionable acting.
However, whilst it’s refreshing to see that the jump scares are few (something Paranormal Activity 3 relied on all too much), come the first exorcism scene, in which our protagonists attempt to save a teenage girl who, due to her violent outbursts, has been locked in a typically dingy and decrepit basement, the signs of silliness start to show. When dealing with material such as this, it is easy to cross the line between frightening and ridiculous, something Sam Raimi recently avoided withDrag Me to Hell, a film that greatly succeeded in balancing the hokey with the genuinely terrifying.
Descending into said hokey territory, The Devil Inside begins to crumble due to the seriousness of all involved. Where there should be scares, there are unintentional laughs, unfortunate considering the promise shown at the start. In turn, this promise is further scuppered by the fact that, come the latter half, the film loses all pretences of a faux-documentary in favour of recent uninspiring and unoriginal found footage movies, at which point it turns from being hokey to being flat out snooker loopy.
And then there’s the ending. During all the shouting and hysterics of the second half, there are tit-bits of information that hint at a wider story. What is the demon’s purpose? How is it able to infect others ala Rec? Why possess Maria for twenty years and not move onto pastures new? What is the terrible event it speaks of when it talks to Ben (Simon Quarterman)? Unfortunately, these questions are never expanded on or resolved as the film-makers, delivering an enormous ‘fuck you’ to the audience, deliver an ending so abrupt that the sheer laziness of it only becomes clear when the credits start. It is neither clever nor satisfying and is likely the primary reason for the hatred toward the film.
There is nothing inspiring about The Devil Inside. It coasts along ticking the relevant boxes without any verve or spark. It’s akin to unsatisfying junk food: you feel guilty for the duration with zero the pleasure at the end.
Watch this if you liked: Lake Mungo, a far superior supernatural chiller that also takes the faux-documentary route.