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'The Devil Inside' Movie Review

About.com Rating 1.5 Star Rating

By

The Devil Inside poster
© Paramount
It seems every year since terrified audiences in 1973, there has to be at least one exorcism movie released in theaters, and 2012 gets it out of the way early, with The Devil Inside releasing on the very first weekend of the year. Unfortunately, if you've seen any of the ones that preceded it, you've seen all that this year's entry has to offer.

The Plot

In October 1989, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) is arrested for the shocking murder of a nun and two priests but is later found not guilty by reason of insanity. She's shipped off to a mental hospital in Italy, and 20 years later, when her now-adult daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) finds out that the crimes took place while her mother was undergoing an exorcism, she decides to uncover the truth by filming a documentary with her director friend Michael (Ionut Grama).

Isabella flies to Italy (with Michael filming her every movement) and sits in on classes at an "exorcism school," where she meets ordained exorcists Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth). The pair are secretly conducting exorcisms on individuals the church has turned down but whom Ben and David believe do indeed need to be exorcised. They agree to help Isabella with her mother, who's at a nearby hospital, but what they encounter is beyond any demonic possession they've dealt with -- one that might cost them not only their jobs, but also their lives.

The End Result

Bonnie Morgan in 'The Devil Inside'.

Bonnie Morgan in 'The Devil Inside'.

© Paramount Insurge
The Devil Inside is the first effort from Paramount's Insurge Pictures label, which specializes in micro-budget horror movies in the vein of the Paranormal Activity franchise. Like those films, The Devil Inside utilizes the cost-cutting format of choice for 21st century horror movies: the "found footage"/point-of-view approach. Devil is organized more like a documentary -- including supposed archival footage -- than the security camera-styled Paranormal Activity movies, but its plodding pace, hackneyed story and weak execution keep it from approaching the quality of similar faux documentaries like The Blair Witch Project, Lake Mungo or even last year's mediocre The Tunnel.

William Brent Bell, whose biggest claim to fame so far has been writing and directing the silly video game-themed horror flick Stay Alive, delivers even more underwhelming results in this sluggish retread that borrows elements from much better exorcism movies like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and even The Rite. The Devil Inside trots out every cinematic exorcism cliché: body contortions, levitation, speaking in tongues, super-human strength, foul-mouthed threats, upside-down crosses, demons who "know" the exorcist, blah blah blah.

Aside from its exceeding familiarity, though, The Devil Inside sets itself up for failure early on by featuring graphic "crime scene footage" of the triple murder, then never presenting any scenarios whose stakes feel as high. We never feel like any possessed person in the film will chop anyone to bits in that manner, so it struggles to generate any sense of danger. Moreover, we never see Isabella's mother as anything other than a raving maniac (possessed or not), so we never feel a rooting interest to see her exorcised. It's the The Devil Inside's script that's most in need of exorcism, stumbling along at a lethargic pace and featuring not only played-out possession motifs, but also clumsy attempts to generate discord between the characters and plot points that are brought up and then either not sufficiently developed or just abandoned altogether.

The cast is actually quite solid -- particularly Crowley's creepy turn as mother Maria -- but their performances lack the "ad-libby" realism needed in the found footage format to really sell the material as genuine. The direction is not as strong, failing to take advantage of the format's inherent fright factor by just tossing in a few lazy, generic (and sometimes mis-timed) jump scares.

Frustratingly, just when The Devil Inside begins to pick up the pace and starts to attain some semblance of becoming interesting, the movie ends. It's as if the filmmakers reached their micro-budget limit and just stopped. In the end, the entire project feels restrained creatively by its budget -- not that that is a viable excuse (see the similarly low-budget and much more original The Last Exorcism) -- as if the folks behind the scenes thought they could do so little with the budgetary constraints that they resorted to the most easy and predictable choices possible.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C+ (Good for a low-budget genre film, but lacks a certain realism.)
  • Direction: C- (Doesn't adequately utilize the found footage format to generate scares.)
  • Script: D- (Dull and cliché-ridden with uninteresting characters, few scares and a lazy plot.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Good effects, given the micro-budget.)
  • Overall: D+ (A slow, tedious retread of exorcism movie conventions that ends just as it threatens to become interesting.)

The Devil Inside is directed by William Brent Bell and is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including some sexual references. Release date: January 6, 2012.

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