'Devil Inside' can go to hell

Article Published: Jan. 12, 2012 | Modified: Jan. 12, 2012
'Devil Inside' can go to hell

From left, Suzan Crowley and Fernanda Andrade star in ‘The Devil Inside.’

It seems Hollywood is possessed.

It’s worrisome enough that some malevolent force keeps greenlighting redundant excorcism movies, but throw in that tedious “found footage” technique, and you’ve got a film shot on helluloid.

“The Devil Inside” is one of the worst to date. With the studios obviously trying to capitalize off the already tired “Paranormal Activity” series, maybe this latest piece seemed like a good idea.

It wasn’t, but it cost $33.7 million in opening weekend revenue for folks to learn the hard way, while Paramount, which reportedly acquired the film for $1 million, laughed itself to the bank.

But the studio executives weren’t the only ones laughing. For all intents and purposes, “Devil Inside” could easily play like a comedy of filmmaking errors – stilted dialogue, subpar performances, absurd plot development, abominable cinematography, dollar store production value and one of the worst “endings” since George Lucas added Hayden Christesen’s ghost to “Return of the Jedi.”

Experts are chalking up its success to a viral marketing campaign, one that purported that the film was based on a true story, and one that’s been used relentlessly since “The Blair Witch Project.”

Furthermore, as the film opens, a title card informs us that the Vatican did not endorse or aid in making the movie. Fair enough. The Vatican didn’t endorse or aid in making “Snakes on a Plane” either. 
But I wish it had.

“The Devil Inside” opens in 1988, as police investigate a triple homicide crime scene. Inside the basement of a house, they find a dead nun, two dead priests and a feral woman who rushes at the camera as we’ve come to expect in “found footage” horror movies.

That woman is Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley, “Wild About Harry”), who’s tried for murder, found not guilty on grounds of insanity and shipped off to a Catholic mental hospital in Rome.

Fast-forward to 2009, and her daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade, TV’s “Fallen”), is curious to find out what happened. Before he died, her father told her that Maria was possessed, further arousing Isabella’s curiosity. So, logically, she hires documentarian Michael (Ionut Grama, “The Whistleblower”) to shoot a documentary about the nefarious goings-on.

They fly to Rome and prepare to visit her mother by attending an exorcism class at the Vatican, where Isabella meets two unusual young priests – Fr. David (Evan Helmuth, “Fever Pitch”) and Fr. Ben (Simon Quarterman, “The Scorpion King 2”), who debate the notion of possession vs. mental insanity. This potentially interesting plot point is pushed to the side when Isabella visits Maria, who, as it turns out, is still bat(shoot) insane and probably possessed.

Conveniently enough, Ben and David are rogue priests, who wear tailored pants and perform freelance exorcisms on people the Vatican has denied services. They insist that Isabella attend a real exorcism so she can understand, and so on and so forth.

Eventually, they revisit Maria to perform an exorcism, and that’s when the film takes an even sharper turn for the worse. Armed with predictability, the film soon digresses to a shoddy blend of “Blair Witch” and “The Real World,” with its dull characters complaining into the camera as the world around them unravels.

But it’s never convincing, nor is it scary. “The Devil Inside” has such a cheap feel to it that you never see the people on screen as characters, just actors trying to do their job.

It’s not without laughs, though, however unintentional. For a scene in which Ben attempts to perform an exorcism in a moving car, you can almost hear director and co-writer William Brent Bell (“Stay Alive”) saying, “Ooh, no one’s ever done an exorcism scene in a car before.” And after this, no one will likely attempt it again.

In addition, Michael seems to be the worst documentarian ever, as director and co-writer William Brent Bell (“Stay Alive”) employs that oh-so-annoying herky-jerky, shaky handheld camera technique that could make a blind man nauseous. At times, he even focuses on the backs of people’s heads while missing those who are actually speaking.

It’s lazy filmmaking. By using the shaky handheld, one has no need for scene framing, establishment or anything that remotely resembles cinematography.

“The Devil Inside” also has no real ending to speak of. It seems Bell and company simply ran out of ideas and tried to pass it off as leaving things open for a sequel. Considering “Paranormal Activity 4” is already on the way – and “Devil Inside’s” surprise success – it may have worked.

“The Devil Inside,” rated R for disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including some sexual references, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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