To paraphrase an old cinematic adage, ‘January is where bad movies go to die.’ As every year movie-goers catch up on holiday blockbusters and Oscar contenders, new releases in the New Year tend to be egregiously insulting in every way, and while the horror genre usually goes in its own direction in the box office, even scares are not immune to the pitfalls of a January release.
The Devil Inside¸ a hopeful New Year entry in the exorcism collection of the horror genre follows the young and simple Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) to Rome, where she visits her committed mother, seeking answers and closure to the grisly murders that incarcerated her decades ago.
Opting to go with the now over-used ‘documentary’ style of filmmaking, director William Brent Bell (who brought us the surprisingly enjoyable teen horror Stay Alive) follows the young Rossi around Rome
(dreary and boring), as she visits hospitals, churches, and of course, the school of exorcism with her one-man crew.
Somewhere Christopher Guest is watching this movie and getting an idea; the characters they interview early on in the movie seem right out of Best in Show or Waiting For Guffman; exaggerated and absurd. You know Isabella’s friend and director is in fact a documentary filmmaker because he stands in a field and wears a scarf when talking to the camera. The elder priest is bald and the doctor has a beard, and of course the nuns passed on the streets of Rome have hollow, white eyes. And don’t forget the barking dog.
Isabella entails the help of two rogue priests (Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth) to educate her on exorcism and help her mother. Instead of taking Isabella to witness the pair exorcize a young woman as they do, instead the priest should simply give her a copy of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, as what develops on screen is an incredibly dull and slightly amusing facsimile.
The film early on telegraphs a trite twist, as Isabella walks into a class for mere minutes that just so happens to be discussing ‘multiple demonic possession.’ While we eventually learn to no surprise or consequence that her very eerie and tortured mother Maria Rossi (a more humourous than scary Suzan Crowley), is possessed by more than one devil, it doesn’t take long to realize the movie suffers the same fate.
It seems to want to rely on blood and shock to deliver some scares, while using words about the devil to creep people out-both fail, as audiences now have been more exposed than other to ghosts and demons in mainstream movies. It uses the standard exorcism tropes, twisting the possessed into standard yoga poses, having them climb walls, and giving the demon inside a sailor’s tongue. For one or two minutes, the film seems to want to discuss the equal power and reason of both science and religion, but that discussion becomes fleeting and never returns. Later on it dips it’s toes into what it means to go against the Church, but that too disappears fast.
A disclaimer pops up before the film begins, telling the audience that the Vatican does not approve this ‘documentary’ and does not want anyone to see it. The next sentence should be, “save your money, and watch the trailer in the dark instead.”