Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: The Devil Inside

I just got back from seeing The Devil Inside. Wow! What a steaming pile of shit!

There were literally no redeeming qualities about this wasted effort. It tried to have some good ideas, and then it completely failed to properly carry any of them out. I had heard  ahead of time that there would be some scary moments, but that the ending were it really lacked. Honestly, the ending wasn't what I had a problem with - it was 86 minutes leading up to the ending that I hated.

But let's start from the beginning. In 1989, Maria Rossi murdered 3 clergy members during an exorcism that was being performed on her. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was eventually transferred to a mental hospital in Rome. 20 years later, her daughter, Isabella, along with a documentary filmmaker (for whatever reason) go to Rome to investigate demonic possession and to look into whether or not Maria was (and possibly still is) under the influence of a demon. While there, Isabella attends the Vatican's exorcism class and meets two renegade priests who have been performing off-the-books exorcisms on people the Church has incorrectly ruled as victims of mental illness, rather than demonic possession. They agree to help her with her investigation.

This movie is the very definition of lazy filmmaking. It was full of stupid, rookie-level mistakes and doesn't even try to have even a base-level respect for its audience. For instance, during the key scenes, director William Brent Bell tried to get creative with the found footage genre by employing a multiple-camera approach. The camera being held by the filmmaker character, Michael was supplemented by hospital security cameras, additional cameras that he placed around the room, and even a "pupil camera" that was supposed measure the size of the patient's pupils as a means of checking for signs of possession (anything over a certain point was supposed to be "preternatural" and all demon-y), and also because eyeballs creep people out. It worked okay in some scenes, and in others, went horribly wrong. The pupil camera took different angles for no reason whatsoever (the thing was stationary - it shouldn't have moved), and in one scene in particular, Michael, operating one of the cameras, should have been visible in the second camera's frame. Yet, he was magically absent. Maybe he was a vampire all along, and that part wound up on the cutting room floor.

The possession scenes were creepy enough, but didn't deliver anything I hadn't seen before. We had the standard demon noises, contorting, disjointing, screaming, knowing information the possessed person couldn't possibly know, speaking in foreign languages and various bodily fluids. Nothing new was added to the demonically-possessed lexicon.

The characterization was laughable. Nothing developed organically, and if the writers needed us to know something about a particular character, they just thrust it into the scene in the least gentle way possible. There was no wining and dining first. It was quick, rough and empty. For example, David, one of the priests, is worried about the risks that they are taking and about how it might put his job in jeopardy if the church were to find out. How do I know this? They sat him down Real World confessional-style and made him tell me. No information was conveyed naturally here. None.

So we come to the end. I won't give anything away, in case anyone reading this is intending to see this piece of shit (I don't recommend it ). Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman seemed to be going for a smarty-pants ambiguous ending, but forgot that they had been spending the past hour and a half pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it went over like a ton of bricks.

I could have been on board with some of the things they almost attempted to do with this one. I liked the idea of priests going rogue against the establishment to fight the forces of evil for the benefit of the greater good. I liked the inclusion of the Vatican-sanctioned school of exorcism that was introduced during last year's slightly less craptastic The Rite (and the book that it was sort of based on, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which was actually an interesting read). But they didn't do anything constructive with these aspects, so their inclusion was an insultingly lazy effort.

I understand why this movie is making money. It's a fun-looking horror movie that opened against nothing else this weekend. What the hell else was anyone going to see? The unfortunate thing is that this taught the studios that they can plunk any piece of crap down in the wee days of January, and as long as it doesn't have any competition, it will rake in the cash. I can't wait to see what we get next year! In the meantime, I'm going to rewatch The Exorcist to heal the gaping void this movie left in my soul.

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