Directed by William Brent Bell
Distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment
The Devil Inside made more money in its opening weekend than The Cabin in the Woods has totaled thus far. Mad yet? How about the fact that the little possession flick everyone hated managed a worldwide total take of $101 million? Despite being one of the most infamously reviled films in recent memory, director William Brent Bell’s little found footage movie turned into a gigantic piece of profit for Paramount Pictures – all while successfully alienating genre fans and film critics with staggering aplomb. Even our own Uncle Creepy helped contribute to the controversy with his postive review! And while I cannot reciprocate this enjoyment of it, I never found it to be the unmitigated disaster others did.
Before it’s revealed that the film doesn’t end so much as cut to black, I would argue that there’s enough happening in The Devil Inside to remain a fairly interesting story of demonic possession. The premise is certainly interesting: rogue priests circumvent the established rules of the Catholic Church by conducting “back room” exorcisms in extreme cases where they feel it necessary to intervene. Into the fray comes Isabella, a young woman who arrives in Rome looking for her mother, and Michael, a documentarian bent on making a name for himself by capturing the sensational nature of the story.
The setup here works because Bell uses cinéma vérité to his advantage, glimpsing us a world in which exorcisms are real and taught by the Catholic Church. The “exorcist school” concept is an excellent one, and could’ve been the subject of its own production. Here it feels like an afterthought at best. The gritty nature of the unsanctioned “basement exorcism” also carries enough authenticity to suggest that the ‘devil’ is out there, able to grab hold of anyone at any minute. It’s impressive that Bell managed to shoot part of his film in Vatican City, an aspect that gives this micro-budgeted “found footage” story an extra sheen of atmosphere and realism. Quite a difference from the usual “kids in the forest” setup usually associated with this style.
Beyond that, the characters play off each other in such a way that there’s always tension between them. They manage to be well-defined people over the span of the 75 minute (sans credits) running time, each with a clear motivation that often conflicts with another. The problem being, unlike the superior The Last Exorcism, these people are cheated out of completing their character arcs – meaning they’re largely the same people at the end as they were at the beginning. A disappointment, considering all that could’ve been done here.
And that’s indicative of a far more serious problem: the ending. Yes, it’s awful. For something that began with some bona fide promise, it’s shocking to see a film that frankly gives up right at the start of act three. Many of my peers thought nothing of spoiling this for me before I had a chance to seeThe Devil Inside and, in hindsight, that was for the best. Long before the credits rolled, I had been bracing myself for something jarring and nonsensical. It’s an ending that provides no catharsis or resolution, instead discarding everything it built up in the name of ‘mystery’.
Now that The Devil Inside is en route to Blu-ray (as a Best Buy Exclusive ONLY) and DVD, it’s my job to tell you if it’s worth your time. Honestly? That’s an answer that will be different for each and every one of you. Having already endured the crushing disappointment of Mass Effect 3‘s cheap and idiotic ending this year, I refuse to cling to the ridiculous sentiment that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters. After all, the journey is no fun if the car you’re driving in goes careening off the road, killing everyone inside. But there are some aspects of The Devil Inside that I legitimately enjoyed, even if very few are followed through to proper fruition. Bell’s film feels like half of one, but with enough pervasive atmosphere to prevent me from calling it a total failure. I know that’s the popular sentiment around this sucker, but I cannot completely share it. After all, last year’s Apollo 18 was a far worse example of this subgenre. The only difference being nobody, not for a second, every believed that pile of junk was going to be any good. This was at least marketed well.
I didn’t hate The Devil Inside. The problem is that its (missing) ending is the only truly memorable moment. Having viewed the film twice now I can comfortable say I’m all set with this one for the rest of my life. But if you’re a sucker for religious horror, blind nuns or creepy contortionists, why not give it a rent and make up your own mind? You might just find something you like. If not, spit on your television all you want.
Paramount brings The Devil Inside to Blu-ray in a high definition transfer that’s exactly what you think it is. Contrast is weak, low-light scenes are blurry and lacking in fine detail/textures. It looks as it should (and as it did theatrically), just don’t expect reference quality material with this disc. On the audio front, however, things are appropriately effective, mainly thanks to the aggressive sound design.
Perhaps still embarrassed by the ‘F’ Cinemascore rating, Paramount declined to offer up any extra material for The Devil Inside‘s home video bow. Five or six years ago I would’ve noted this as a surefire sign of an upcoming double dip, but how many people are clamoring to add The Devil Inside to their collections, exactly? This is a BD and DVD dump. The studio made some money with this movie and clearly didn’t want to spend another dime on a home video release. A pity, really, as I would’ve enjoyed hearing the filmmakers address the controversy in detail.
There’s no way around it: The Devil Inside made a lot of people very angry. I’m not going to fall on the sword for this movie but I’ll maintain it’s a watchable genre offering with a moment or two throughout. That’s probably not enough to warrant a purchase but, depending on your standards, it might be worth a watch on a slow afternoon.
2 1/2 out of 5
0 out of 5