In 1989, Maria Rossi murdered 3 people. She did this while being the subject of an exorcism and since then, she’s been locked away by the Vatican. It’s now 2009, and her daughter, Isabella, wants some answers. Izabella has joined with a documentary filmmaker to travel to Italy and find out if her mother was truly possessed.
That’s the basic premise to The Devil Inside the newest horror film to follow the general style of “found footage” movies like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. The difference with The Devil Inside is that this presents itself as a straight-up documentary from the start, complete with prologues using news footage, expert commentary and police video. It’s a good idea to try something like this, but unfortunately the filmmakers never quite follow through with this as a straight-up documentary.
Basically, the start-up is sound, but then the follow-through goes back to the familiar with just found footage. Now I tend to like these sort of movies, but The Devil Inside makes a few key mistakes that shatters it’s illusion. The most apparent of these is obvious “acting” by some of the principle players. One scene in particular stands out for this and that’s a bit of business when Isabella, who’s now been joined by a couple of priests who are experts in exorcism, takes part in an their examination of her mother. Up until this point, Isabella, has been cautious about getting involved with any of the proceedings. But when her mother, in the midst of displaying multiple personalities in scattershot ways, starts to beckon her with a childhood memory, Isabella gives in too easily. It’s just too obvious to the point of looking like it’s forced by the filmmakers as opposed to being something that naturally happens.
It doesn’t stop there. It’s obviously apparent to the audience that Maria Rossi is the victim of demonic possession and later revealed that she’s possessed by multiple demons all ready to spread further. This does indeed happen with one of the priests, who after his encounter with Maria, isn’t quite himself. This priest, David, has to break from the documentary and go perform a baptism where he’s followed by the director of the film. At this baptism, David performs a pretty heinous act, which one would figure would have him being stopped and subdued by the crowd immediately, but that isn’t what happens. Instead the film breaks and David is able to make his escape back to the rest of the principle players. It’s a contrivance that just doesn’t ring true with the set-up.
What would’ve been more inventive is if this movie had followed the initial idea of totally being created as a documentary, say somewhat along the lines that a movie like The Fourth Kind did. It certainly would’ve been more difficult to do that and get the kind of scares that the filmmakers wanted to get, but it could be done (the earliest of these found footage movies, The Last Broadcast actually does this quite well).
Now, The Devil Inside certainly has it’s good moments as well, the scenes with Maria acting out are really nicely done (with the one exception) and real standout moments for actress Susan Crowley. The main cast, for the most part, are characters that you want to follow, in particular the two priests Ben and David, played by Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth respectively, and that’s even taking into account the forced bit that the director, William Brent Bell, puts David through. Fernanda Andrade plays Isabella, and again, except for the forced stuff she has to do, she does just fine (though she sort of comes off to me as Mila Kunis-lite).
Though I have these problems with The Devil Inside, I’m also willing to chalk up some of this to the environment that I saw this in. This was a packed house with a lot of people there who’s main concern was entertaining themselves more than watching the movie. If I see this again through home video, then I might come away from it a little bit differently down the road. For now though, there are certainly better examples of this kind of film that I can more easily recommend. If you must see The Devil Inside I’d suggest waiting another week or so for a less interactive audience.