William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside (co-written by Bell and Matthew Peterman) would like to give us evil incarnate, and on occasion it almost manages, but the commodity it serves up most purely is frustration. While there’s enough scares, general creepiness and gore to give it a soft recommend to those hard up for a horror fix, the fact that it doesn’t fully function as a movie can’t be overlooked. Also, it has no third act. So if you’re into things like satisfying resolutions you might want to give this one a pass.
The film opens with a Policeman’s VHS account of a crime scene. Lingering nicely on the bloodied, lifeless bodies of a rampage that has left three dead, The Devil Inside starts off on the right foot by actually letting us see stuff (most found footage films would be content jostling around and away from the carnage). Bell lets it all soak in nicely, at least until we’re given a jump scare so rote I could have set my watch to it.
We learn that Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), seemingly insane, murdered all of these people before we see her carted away in a police car. From there we skip ahead 20 or so years to 2009 where we meet Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), daughter of Maria Rossi, who has decided to make a documentary about what “really” happened to her mother. We learn that after spending some time in a local mental hospital, Maria was carted off to a facility in Rome, Italy. Near the Vatican. For convenient exorcism I suppose (even though it’s later stated that there has been no attempted exorcism in Rome because the murderous rampage 20 years ago was the result of a failed demonic expulsion and the Church has wiped its hands of trying such a thing again). Once in Italy, Maria and her acerbic (of course) cameraman Michael (Ionut Grama) hook up with semi-rogue exorcists Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth). I say semi-rogue because they belong to the Church, but they also perform illegal exorcisms outside of its dominion. I guess this makes them sort of like Riggs and Murtaugh – defying red tape and warrants and sh*t to take the law into their own hands – only they’re really boring.
To be fair, from here on in we’re treated to some pretty cool stuff in the exorcism scenes. Bell knows how to render his creepy religious imagery. The Devil Inside doesn’t skimp on violence or scares (especially jump scares). Unfortunately, that doesn’t really make it a movie. I’m not sure where it was decided that every character in almost every found-footage film has to be utterly flat – but this film is in no danger of breaking with that tradition. The performances are serviceable only to be in service of nothing. The film also proudly beats the drum of keeping everything in between the good stuff as dour and exposition laden as possible.
The film delves into some interesting demonic soul hot-potato (though in a far less colorful way than Jason Goes To Hell) but it’s utilized only to keep the audience on their toes – there’s no thematic resonance. And the sense of randomness utterly diminishes our understanding of anyone’s actual goal (demons included).
I can’t go much further right now without talking about the ending. I’m not going to spoil any specific events – but Spoiler Alert anyway…
Alright. So right when things are finally getting interesting – towards the end of what I assumed was the 2nd act – the movie ends. Really, it does. Stakes get raised, options get scarce and there are several points of no return! There’s gore, carnage and legitimate spectacle! Everything is shaping up nicely for a grand finale! I was almost excited! WOOT!
Nope! The movie’s over! Really. Really.
Actually it’s not technically over. A title card informs you that the investigation into the events was never finished. Then another title card arises, and I’m not kidding, urging you to visit a website to search for clues about the film’s ending. To finish the story yourself. Online.
I’m not sure about you but if I pay to see a movie (or even if I go see one for free) – I’d like to see the whole thing. Sure, I like to think about and engage with a great film for a while after I’ve seen it. But, for reasons in addition to requiring a URL to complete it, The Devil Inside isn’t a great film. If you’re looking for some cheap scares and know that this type of thing is up your alley? Go for it. You’ll only be mildly let down. Everyone else? I reckon your full ticket price would be better spent on a full movie.