The Devil Inside starts off slow, plays well in the middle and ends with a groan. Coming in at 87 minutes, the first hour or so serves as your standard set-up with a couple of solid scares. Unfortunately this leaves only something like 20 minutes of the worst and most unimaginative parts of the whole thing as it devolves from a faux documentary into a bag of cheap and cliched “found footage” tricks. Not to mention, if you’ve seen the theatrical trailer, the only part of the film you won’t be well ahead of are those final 20 minutes, but once you get there you’ll just wish you could hit fast forward.
The story begins as a young woman named Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) heads off to Italy to see if she can help her mother, Maria (Suzan Crowly). Twenty years ago Maria killed three people during an exorcism, was promptly found not guilty for reasons of insanity, sent to a mental hospital and shortly thereafter shipped off to Italy for reasons Isabella never understood until now.
Seeking help, Isabella makes for the Apostolic Academy of Rome where she finds two young priests — Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth). As luck would have it, this duo has been performing unsanctioned exorcisms for some time now and helping Isabella is right up their alley. However, in order for her to really understand what she’s getting herself into, they ask her to sit in with them on one of their unauthorized exorcisms. Naturally.
You see, Ben and David are a little upset with the way the Church does its very best to avoid helping people believed to be possessed, often attributing their affliction to epilepsy or any other manner of explanation for why someone may not actually have the Devil inside of them. It’s these same reasons Isabella’s mother is living out her days in a mental hospital rather than being treated by a proper member of the Church and it’s high time something be done about it.
Now we get to the problem with The Devil Inside. First off, you should have already determined where this story is heading based on the small bit of information I’ve told you. This is all information you could have gleaned from watching the trailer. In fact, if you’ve seen the trailer you’re probably already ahead of me as the first full trailer not only effectively sold what looked like a really creepy movie, but sold a film that had a much larger story to tell as it gave away most of the story.
If you’ve seen the first theatrical trailer you’re essentially 60 or so minutes into this short 87-minute feature already. By the time you get through everything you expected to see, co-writer/director William Brent Bell overplays his hand, trying too hard to deliver a finale you wouldn’t see coming. Not so. I can respect him for his attempt, but if I was to say the film had any measure of authenticity leading up to its finale it all goes out the window in the final moments as genre cliches rear their head and you no longer care or are remotely scared by what’s going on and are ultimately left with a blank stare on your face as the final frames flicker into the blackness.
This isn’t to say the film is entirely void of quality. Made on a reportedly tiny, $1 million budget, Bell and his crew took to the streets of Rome and Bucharest where they shot the film on location, a detail that really does help sell the narrative.
Additionally, the early moments of possession are effective. The film doesn’t take things too far and isn’t necessarily concerned with CG demonic faces, but rather the tortured, red faces of possessed victims writhing in pain. It’s for these precise reasons much of the story’s build-up works so well in that “less is more” fashion of storytelling and performance. It only begins to fall apart when it expands outside its limited reach.
Crowly as the possessed mother, is truly creepy when we first meet her in her Italian hospital room as she mutters under her breath, eyes shifting around the room before she focuses in on her visiting daughter. Her performance proves you don’t have to do much to give someone the creeps. Just sit there and do nothing, make me wonder what the hell is wrong with the person that’s hardly moved a muscle before slowly revealing your true nature. Crowly nails this aspect of the character and it makes for a legitimately creepy scene, but it was also the last time I found myself getting too invested in the scares or the story.
The trailers for The Devil Inside should easily capture audience attention and turn this low-budget feature into a modest financial success for Paramount, but I’m not expecting Paranormal Activity type results, primarily because it’s playing to the same audience whom have already invested in one such franchise and the comparison between the two just doesn’t exist.
I’m also genuinely curious if most audiences will have the same experience I had at the end of the film as you’re left to stare at the screen, thinking to yourself, “That’s it?” It’s at this moment a website address flash on the screen professing to have more information on what you just watched. More information? I wonder if a satisfying ending can be found there.
Walking out of the theater I felt as if I had just watched an exorcism infomercial, expecting Ron Popeil to pop out and start spray painting his head or have the ShamWow! guy yell at me for 30 minutes. This final moment only proves The Devil Inside is, was and always has been at its best as a trailer for something better, so I guess the additional piece of marketing at the end fits right in.