The only new film to appear in our twelveplex over the last couple of weeks is the horror film “The Devil Inside.” This is what we might call proof of cinematic poverty.
“The Devil Inside” belongs to a couple of different recent traditions of movies, the hand-held camera fake-umentaries and the neo-exorcism films. The fake-umentary horror films began with “The Blair Witch Project” and include “Cloverfield” (which is actually just “Godzilla” but set in New York City) and the “Paranormal Activity” movies.
These films are money makers. They cost little to make, include no stars, make-up, or expensive cinematography as they are supposed to be what some near amateur filmed with a home movie set-up. They are scary only in the sense that they surprise us—suddenly a ghostly hand appears in the frame, say. But only the tightly-wound will find them shocking enough to produce a sufficient result.
There have been fewer recent exorcism films, and they’ve tended to have better casts, photography, dialog, and story lines. The best of them is “The Last Exorcism” which, despite a little let-down in the end, maintained viewer interest and gave us characters with some sense of humor who were involved in something that really did seem to shock them.
Well, “The Devil Inside” is the worst of the neo-exorcism movies I’ve seen, and it isn’t much better than the average of the hand-held camera shows. It doesn’t run a full hour and a half, and yet I was bored long before it was over. Only the reaction of the crowd to the film’s ending amused me. They hated it, and complained loudly as the credits began to roll.
The story is that an Italian American woman named Maria Rossi was being exorcised about twenty-five years ago. During the ceremony, she killed the two priests and one nun who were running things. Declared insane, Maria has been sent to a mental hospital in Rome. Rome, Italy. Why? Because they apparently wanted her.
Now Maria’s daughter, Isabella, takes a documentary filmmaker along with her to the eternal city. They stop in on an academic class about exorcism where they meet two active exorcist priests, young fellows. And then they go to visit Maria, who is bug eyed and marked with little cuts, who speaks in several different voices (or so the exorcists tell us) and who may know of the secret sins of everyone who visits her.
We are warned about “transference,” that evil spirits inhabiting an exorcism’s patient may hop to someone else who is there. We learn that the movie’s priests have trouble getting the Vatican to allow them to do exorcisms, and that the reasons for this are fairly weak.
But we learn all of this from outside. We are told rather than shown. The priests are English speakers. The film’s few Italians just speak English with a little accent. There aren’t many sets, and they aren’t atmospheric or foreign. Everything, in other words, was done on the cheap.
Any movie that uses footage from a television news broadcast is admitting to a second kind of poverty, poverty of imagination. And “The Devil Inside” has that weakness, too. But at least we get more than one camera angle on the visually (but not always audibly) discontinuous scenes—the documentarian likes to use stick-up cameras as well as his hand-held one.
The audience doesn’t come to care anything about the characters. The action is hard to watch because it is poorly filmed. And the movie is utterly predictable, even in its range of techniques. No wonder there were complaints from the balcony at the end of the movie.
Now, count this as a complaint directed at Hollywood for having no new movies of any quality to give us in the week after New Year’s. “The Devil Inside” is all they can come up with?