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The Devil Inside

A movie directed by William Brent Bell

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Back-Alley Exorcisms

  • Jan 7, 2012
Star Rating:

The Devil Inside is the first demonic possession film I know of to entertain the idea of back-alley exorcisms – that is, those performed by ordained exorcists outside official religious jurisdiction. They’re portrayed as progressives eager to bypass the hypocritical and bureaucratic sanctioning of the church, which, according to them, has been alarmingly selective when it comes to who can and cannot receive the services of an exorcist. Officials stipulate that there’s a definite difference between possession and mental illness, and not all cases fall into the former category. The priests in this film understand that there’s a definite difference, although they also believe that a great many people are authentically possessed and have been overlooked by the system. And so, under constant threat of discovery and excommunication, they provide help to those who need it.
On the basis of the film’s pathetically low Rotten Tomatoes score, I would wager that most critics somehow missed this surprisingly clever and timely social commentary. It seems we’re also in disagreement over how frightening the film is. While by no means the scariest movie ever made, it effectively builds tension, and there are moments that made me jump in my seat. Is it just that I scare too easily, or did I remember how these movies are supposed to work? Furthermore, there’s something to be said about a demonic possession movie that doesn’t hold back in terms of disturbing visuals; in the course of this movie, we will see people contorting into impossible shapes, splayed bodies at a crime scene, and in one instance, profuse vaginal bleeding. The only time I thought the filmmakers went too far was in a scene that, oddly enough, did not involve an exorcism. Instead, it involved a baptism.

Having said all that, some of the criticisms aimed at this film are valid. From a technical standpoint, it breaks no new ground as a found-footage mockumentary, at this point a genre in and of itself. We have the usual fare: The combination of handheld and surveillance recordings, the persistent use of the Queasy Cam, the frantic journeys through dark corridors and rooms, and the bookending claims that (1) the film is documenting a real event, and (2) the case remains unsolved to this day (we’re even provided with the address of a website to visit for more “information”). Structurally, it gets off to an implausible yet decent start, only to become more predictable and routine as it enters the final act. Initially engaging characters become progressively less developed until they’re reduced to stock horror movie caricatures. And then there’s the ending, which isn’t bad so much as it is abrupt. When the credits start rolling, there’s the unshakable feeling that something more needs to be said.
The film opens with a recording of a 911 call made on October 30, 1989, in which we hear the emotionally vacant voice of a woman slowly confessing to the murders of three people. We then see police footage of the crime scene, and yes, we get ample views of three gore-ridden bodies and the blood-stained weapons used on them. The victims, we soon learn, were trying to perform an exorcism on the murderer, a woman named Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley). After being arrested, the Catholic Church got involved and shipped Maria off to a sanitarium in Rome. The details of the America-to-Italy transfer are a little sketchy, as is the reason for having her sent to Italy at all, but never mind. At this point, we flash forward to footage shot in 2009. It seems that Maria’s daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), has hired a documentary crew to follow her to Rome and capture on film the attempts to save her mother.

After attending an exorcism seminar, she’s introduced to two priests, both ordained exorcists. One is Ben (Simon Quarterman), a Brit who entered the priesthood largely due to his uncle. The other is David (Evan Helmuth), an American who’s also a licensed physician and has built his reputation on the fusion of science and religion. While both are men of faith, they disapprove of the church’s dismissal of certain possession cases, and they take it upon themselves to perform the necessary exorcisms – a big no-no. They make it clear that, in order to really understand demonic possession, Isabella will have to witness an exorcism first hand. And so she does. She will also reunite with her mother, who becomes dangerously hostile at the sight or even the mere mention of religious paraphernalia. The only exceptions would be the inverted crosses she has cut into her forearm.
That all of this is ridiculous, there can be no argument. All the same, the characters were developed in such a way that I was genuinely curious about where the story would go. Alas, the Maria Rossi subplot is eventually dropped altogether, at which point the film stops being character-driven and becomes a run-of-the-mill horror thriller. Ideas that were only alluded to, such as multiple demon possession and the transference of a demon from one body to another, are now foremost on the minds of the filmmakers. Given the deceptively satirical undertones of its opening and middle acts, this is a bit of a letdown. All the same, The Devil Inside is nowhere near as bad as most claim it is. If you can see your way past its lack of originality and authenticity – which is, when you think about it, the case with most horror movies – I think you’ll be plenty satisfied by what it has to offer.


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February 15, 2012
Most people despised this movie. I thought it looked cheap and unbelievable from the trailers. I will rent it with an open mind.
February 15, 2012
I've been accused so many times of being too lenient on certain films, and indeed, I've given positive reviews to many films people hated (Legion, Jonah Hex, Priest, Daybreakers, Inkheart, and Mars Needs Moms, just to name a few). Perhaps I'm too easily amused. For whatever it's worth, I feel that if a film succeeds at being exactly what it wants to be and no more, it deserves a positive review.
June 14, 2012
Alright, so I saw this (borrowed it free of charge from the library, thank fucking God) and it was pretty much as shitty as most people made it out to be. There are a few effective scenes but there isn't a trace of real atmosphere or authenticity to it. William Brent Bell can't make a good horror film for shit.
June 16, 2012
My only response is to refer you back to my previous comment.
January 08, 2012
I actually liked the way the film was in the first half, but all in all, I dunno. I liked these types of films, but I just couldn't connect to the material, and I feel that it merely touched upon its premise. I was frustrated that it was interesting but just could not follow through with a solid footing. Nice review, I may try to rent this again to see if it changes my mind....
January 08, 2012
Believe it or not, I'm actually in complete agreement with you. The first half was indeed better than the second half, and it ultimately did not follow through on its own interesting premise. So then why did I give it three stars? I guess because I felt there were more good parts in it than bad. And, despite what the Rotten Tomatoes consensus is, it was at times quite scary.
January 07, 2012
Great review, even though we dont really agree i see your points on the 911 call which i totally forgot about..it was kinda creepy. I was really rooting on this movie to be one thay would scare me...but alas no luck..but that baptism scene wow!
January 08, 2012
yeah, this had some good moments, I also liked the first exorcism scene....
January 08, 2012
Given the overwhelmingly negative critical reception the film has received, there's a strong possibility that I'm just plain crazy. It wouldn't be the first time I've given a positive review to a film everyone else hates.
January 08, 2012
I didnt hate it...i mean ive seen way worse films. It just wasnt scary at all.
More The Devil Inside reviews
review by . January 08, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Quite More Like
The power of suggestion is a pretty strong marketing ploy. Recent movies such as “The Fourth Kind”, “Apollo 18” and the “Paranormal Activity” franchise have all but made their movies’ premise revolve around the eerie feeling of dread and suggested reality ever since the success of the “Blair Witch Project”. “The Devil Inside” is another such film that uses the suggestion that it had been inspired by true events (I am not at liberty …
review by . June 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****    On October 30, 1989; it is said that an elderly woman made a 9/11 phone call in which she revealed to have killed three people. Through an excruciatingly dull walk-through of the crime scene, we learn that the victims were found mutilated almost beyond recognition with religious items such as a crucifix at their side. The deceased were conducting an exorcism on the perpetrator of the crimes when she killed them. The woman, Marie Rossi, is moved to a psychiatric …
review by . January 07, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
So my sister finally convinced me to leave my house and *gasp* pay $10 to see a movie, the adventure she picked out for us was The Devil Inside, now im going to try not to spoil this for everyone who has yet to see it,but it may happen so i apoligize in advance. I would like to start out saying i love a good horror film, but they are so few and far between these days that im often disappointed, and today was no different, not only was i not in the least bit scared but i was laughing at some points …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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