Dir: William Brent Bell. US. 2011. 83mins
The Devil Inside takes two steadfast horror tropes – demonic possession and the gimmick of “found footage” – and does very, very little new with them. Masquerading as a documentary about a young woman trying to get to the bottom of her murderous mother’s mysterious exile to a Vatican mental institution, this would-be chiller from director/co-writer/co-editor William Brent Bell is suitably intriguing in its early stretches before quickly becoming bedevilled by genre clichés.
The Devil Inside feels mostly like a pale imitation, a meagre carbon copy, of the movies whose success it’s trying to emulate.
Opening in North America on January 6 before slowly making its way across the globe, this Paramount offering would love to match (or better) the box office performance of another found-footage supernatural horror flick, The Last Exorcism, which garnered about $68m worldwide. But with no stars and a dreary release date, The Devil Inside will probably be a distant commercial memory by the time Underworld Awakening hits theatres in two weeks.
At first, The Devil Inside seems potentially promising, presenting itself as a documentary made by Michael (Ionut Grama) who is chronicling Isabella’s (Fernanda Andrade) journey from America to Italy to make contact with her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley). The last time Isabella saw her mother, it was back in 1989 when she was still a little girl and Maria was arrested for brutally killing three people who were trying to perform an exorcism on her. Now 20 years later, Isabella is teaming up with two exorcists (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) to confront her mother in a mental institution to determine if she’s insane or under the sway of the devil.
Bell (who last made the 2006 horror movie Stay Alive) doesn’t show much ingenuity in either his staging or plotting, resulting in a film that will probably play better to those genre fans who enjoy the familiar conventions but don’t necessarily expect them to be reworked or invigorated in any meaningful way. Indeed, there’s precious little in The Devil Inside thematically or visually that hasn’t been explored in previous films like the Paranormal Activity trilogy or the spate of recent exorcism-centric movies such as The Rite. Even the use of largely unknown actors – meant to further suggest the film’s real-life authenticity – comes across as formulaic rather than novel.
With the scares primarily of the possessed-people-writhing-around variety, The Devil Inside fails to conjure up much sustained dread. While Crowley is appropriately unsettling as Isabella’s afflicted mother, the film’s central actors are largely uninteresting, with Andrade’s anguished Isabella particularly boring and ineffectual. And since important information about exorcisms – such as some demons’ ability to transfer from one body to another – is dispensed early on in rather obvious, on-the-nose ways, there’s scant surprise when the twists come later in the film.
Indicative of its early-January release, The Devil Inside feels mostly like a pale imitation, a meagre carbon copy, of the movies whose success it’s trying to emulate. The film’s threadbare frights are the sort that will be forgotten about once better and more distinctive films start making their way to us in subsequent months.
Production companies: Insurge Pictures, Prototype
Domestic distribution: Paramount Pictures, www.paramount.com
Producers: Matthew Peterman, Morris Paulson
Executive producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian, Erik Howsam
Screenplay: William Brent Bell & Matthew Peterman
Cinematography: Gonzalo Amat
Production designer: Tony DeMille
Editors: Timothy Mirkovich, William Brent Bell
Music: Brett Detar, Ben Romans
Main cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Ionut Grama, Suzan Crowley