The Devil Inside, directed by Stay Alive‘s William Brent Bell, is the story of a young woman whose mother was committed to an asylum after she murdered three people during an exorcism; her own exorcism. The young daughter is now traveling to a hospital in Rome, where her mother was transferred, to examine the validity of her possession. She brings along a film crew to document the experience. As you have probably guessed from that last sentence, The Devil Inside is a found footage movie. More to the point it may be the end-all-be-all argument against found footage movies forever more. It is certainly among the worst I have yet seen.
In in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I am a fan of this still young subgenre. I feel there is something to be said for the dismantling of the fourth wall and the safety net it provides us as jaded horror fans. That being said, I refuse to accept that any horror film told through the lens of a character-mounted camera is worth celebrating. But for much of its runtime, The Devil Inside‘s most heinous crime is that it courts convention with boyish adoration. It brings in plenty of manufactured experts to interview, it points out the multiple cameras in a given space, and employs some of the best looking fake news footage to date. Basically, it goes full faux. Within those moments, there are some exceedingly conventional tropes that will startle but not scare, eliciting a reaction that won’t linger in your consciousness beyond dying of the last murmur in the theater. And then there are some moments of stillness and some wicked contortion artistry that work fairly well and seem to promise a wholly passable found footage romp.
But then we reach a moment (just after a baptism-gone-bad) wherein the movie’s own logic begins to unravel. Reactions to extreme stimulus don’t merely stretch our ability to suspend disbelief, they blatantly fly in the face of common sense. Things which are supposed to be crucial surprises are laid bare in random, intimate, ill-advised moments of psychotic, thrown-away candor. Characters babble revealing vague backstory fragments into the lens that will then bare no further fruit. This is the point of no return. If you want to resign yourself that The Devil Inside is merely a bad film, get out now.
!!!BE FOREWARNED, SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!!!
The Bible espouses that Christ’s coming will be “as a thief in the night.” Evidently Satan’s exit will be just as swift. Just as the third act kicks off, it ends. A heavily telegraphed plot twist, as in telegraphed and then transcribed into an email and sent to a contact list that includes anyone with eyes, bursts violently forth, the film completely pulls its own plug and aborts. If the devil is in the details then The Devil Inside performs a de facto exorcism by not giving us any. I understand that it’s a found footage movie and therefore by nature a satisfying resolution to the story is likely to elude us. So I know how I must sound right now; willingly wandering out into a stormy night and then complaining about getting wet. But you cannot conceive of just how prematurely this movie concludes. The main plot points of the movie, which have barely been visited much less fleshed out, are wantonly abandoned. It goes beyond gimmick to a place I like to call Lazyville. The filmmakers then shovel their “based on a true story” bullshit into our gaping, baffled mouths and actually have the audacity to instruct us to seek more information at some contrived website; apparently entrusting the web designers to do the job they aren’t equipped to handle.
The reaction from the general public in that screening was not silent disappointment, but roaring, bilious hatred. I can only image how the public will react when they are actually asked to shell out hard-earned dollars to see this movie and realize that they are not seeing a film by artists. These are charlatans gleefully robbing them of their cash with a giant middle finger waving triumphantly in the air; money changers in the temple of film.
Am I really giving this film an F based on its ending? Absolutely. Is that fair? Entirely. When we were kids, when we insolently failed to complete our assignments, we were given a F. The filmmakers’ assignment for The Devil Inside was simply to deliver a completed film. Until they sack up, get off their lazy asses, and deliver an ending that does cheat and insult the intelligence of the audience, their F stands.