Another January, another half-baked exercise in exorcism
February brings stale candy on sale the day after Valentine’s Day, July offers PSAs featuring fireworks and missing fingers, and January means dopey movies about demonic possession.
And if “The Devil Inside,” 2012’s entry in this ever-enervating genre, isn’t the stupidest of the lot, it still maintains the tradition of the year’s first month offering some of its very worst movies.
Mind you, this silly film cost a million bucks to make, and earned twice that in the Thursday midnight screenings alone, so we have only ourselves to blame. Unless the devil made us do it.
“The Devil Inside” takes the radically new and different tack of being a mock-documentary, so the entire film is shot from the POV of a filmmaker who finds himself in a terrifying … oh, you know.
It’s the same old “Blair Witch” rehash, this time following Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) to Rome to visit her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley). Maria has been institutionalized since she murdered two priests and a nun in 1989, when Isabella was 7, and mother and daughter haven’t seen each other in the ensuing 20 years.
While the Catholic Church never officially admitted that the murders took place during an attempt to perform an exorcism on Maria, the fact that she was transferred from the US to Rome speaks volumes. (“The Devil Inside” opens with a hilarious disclaimer that the Vatican does not endorse the movie; we already have a contender for this year’s list of “no duh” moments.)
Operating without the endorsement of the Holy See, Isabella and director Michael (Ionut Grama) enlist the help of exorcism students David (Evan Helmuth) and Ben (Simon Quarterman)to perform the rite on Maria once again. Things don’t go well, particularly since demons can hop from body to body — you know, like cooties.
In the decades since William Friedkin’s landmark “The Exorcist,” we’ve seen this sort of thing in countless movies, and it’s pretty much the same formula — skeptical outsider, earnest priests, Catholic pageantry, a restrained woman twisted in weird positions and speaking multiple languages and revealing painful truths that the exorcist has kept to himself, etc.
“The Devil Inside” dutifully touches all the bases, and to its credit, it does muster a few spooky moments. The scenes of exorcism provide some chills, thanks mostly to the performances of Crowley (as well as Bonnie Morgan, whose contortionist skills are on full display here as another possessee), but director William Brent Bell (“Stay Alive”) and his co-writer Matthew Peterman offer way too much set-up for too little payoff. Once the characters start talking to the camera about the filmmaking process, you can feel the actual filmmakers stalling for time.
Bell also indulges in a lot of tired horror shtick, from the we’re-making-a-movie-here narrative to the “camera in a car that’s flipping over” routine that everyone’s been stealing from “Let Me In” of late.
And then there’s the ending, which I won’t spoil here — suffice it to say that Twitter was full of reports of people booing. (While my fellow viewers didn’t react quite as viscerally, people did laugh out loud and make other sounds that suggested that eyes were rolling all over the auditorium.)
“The Devil Inside” won’t be 90 minutes in hell — and it’s more fun to watch than, say, last year’s “The Rite” — but you’re better off popping in your “Exorcist” DVD for the 20th time than venturing out for this hooey.