Box Office: The Devil’s Inside the Details (Updated!)

It’s the first weekend of the New Year 2012 and as has been the case many years in the past, there’s only one new movie and it’s not one we know very much about, unfortunately.

The supernatural thriller The Devil Inside (Paramount), directed by William Brent Bell, follows a young woman who gets involved in unauthorized exorcisms while traveling in Italy. It’s the first “micro-budget” movie from Paramount’s Insurgent imprint, which came out of the success of the “Paranormal Activity” movies, and it takes a similar approach to horror by trying to set itself up in reality using a doc style of filmmaking. Moviegoers have generally accepted this format for the most part, and audiences’ desire to be scared has helped the “Paranormal Activity” movies become hugely successful despite their lower budget. The Devil Inside follows in the footsteps of other recent possession-exorcism movies The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($30 million opening), The Last Exorcism ($20.4 million) and The Rite ($14.8 million), and in a lesser sense, 2010’s Devil ($12.3 million). It’s probably closest to The Last Exorcism in that it’s a lower budget found footage type movie which means it doesn’t have to make a lot of money to be profitable, although it’s also not opening in late summer where a movie like that could do bigger business. Other horror movies that have opened well in the first weekend of the year include Eli Roth’s Hostel ($19.5 million opening), White Noise ($24 million) and The Unborn ($19 million in third place that weekend!) This proves that the first weekend of January doesn’t necessarily have to be dead at the box office, just because people have been going to movies over the holidays and are ready to get back to work and school. The Devil Inside is coming out on the same day as Hostel did six years ago, and opening in between 2,000 and 2,200 theaters, we think this one could end up somewhere in the $12 to 13 million range opening weekend, maybe slightly higher if buzz continues to build over the week.

(UPDATE: Okay, we probably underestimated this one a little bit earlier in the week and buzz has been building over the course of the week but we still think The Devil Inside will do big business on Friday (including Thursday midnights) and then quickly tail off over the weekend as word gets around that it’s a stinker. This should allow Mission: Impossible to remain on top, especially as it adds more theaters on Friday, as do War Horse and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo>)

Even so, we think Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol will stay on top with a strong fourth weekend in first place and many of the returning movies should continue to do well as the weekend’s single release will only cater to one audience. There’s a chance that some of the limited releases may expand wider with Focus Features’ Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy taking advantage of its terrific run in limited release since opening on December 9. It made a million in just 57 theaters this past weekend (It was a holiday though), but we think it could do between $3 and 5 million this weekend, depending on how many theaters it gets. Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is another possibility with expansion with its reentry into the Top 10 last weekend, but we think most of that will be saved until after the Golden Globes are announced on Sunday, January 15.

In limited release, Haruki Muramaki’s cult novel NorwegianWood (Soda Pictures, Red Flag Releasing) is brought to the screen by French-Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya), telling the tale of Watanabe (“Death Note” star Kenichi Matsumaya), a young man during the Tokyo of the ‘60s caught between two very different women, the troubled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and the lively Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).

Ron Eldard stars in Roadie (Magnolia), the new indie drama from Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.), playing a roadie for the Blue Oyster Cult who returns home to Queens for the first time in years and has to deal with an aging dementia-stricken mother as well as trying to impress an old high school girlfriend (Jill Hennessy) and rival (Bobby Cannavale). It opens at New York’s Cinema Village on Friday, as well as being available on VOD.

Opening on Wednesday at New York’s Film Forum is Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Cinema Guild), the new film from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates) which is also his country’s pick for the Oscars. It follows a group of men including a police commissioner, a doctor and a suspected killer combing the Anatolian countryside looking for the burial ground of the murderer’s victim.

Dennis Quaid and Aimee Teegarden star in Martin Guigui’s Beneath the Darkness (Image Entertainment), Quaid playing a local mortician in Smithville, Texas whose creepy behavior draws the attention of a group of high school kids (including Teegarden) who discover a dark secret that gets them into trouble.

Mini-Review: Every once in a while, a movie comes along that you can tell within the first few minutes something’s off. Of course, having Dennis Quaid in your movie certainly makes one hopeful this won’t be a complete dog but it’s immediately evident he either never bothered to read the script or owed someone too big a favor to care. He certainly makes the most out of his creepy mortician Ely Vaughn, but after an opening where he kidnaps a neighbor at gunpoint and buries him alive, we cut forward two years to meet the four teen protagonists in their English class, learning about Poe’s “Telltale Heart” and “Macbeth.” (It’s meant to be ironic.)

Incidentally, Travis (Tony Oller) saw a ghost when he was a kid. No, I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but this talk of ghosts convinces the four friends to break into the house of a local mortician… that’s right, the murderous Ely we met at the beginning. There, they find that he has been keeping the well-preserved corpse of his wife in their bedroom and every night, he dances with her as if she were still alive. Apparently, everyone in town has lost someone and there probably is some connection between all of them… well, except Travis’ sister. We never figure out where she fits in. Anyway, the kids break into Ely’s home, they get caught and Ely kills one of them. In the tradition of great horror movie teen stupidity, they decide to go BACK a night later in order to find proof of the corpse the police can’t seem to find, and things go just as badly. The police of Smithville, Texas, when they do get involved, prove to be hopelessly incompetent morons, and of course, they don’t believe anything our teen heroes say. Even when Travis gets shot by Ely, it’s okay by them, “’cause this is Texas.”

This is not a good movie and there are points in it that remind me of “Mystery Team” as if it were handled completely seriously. That alone gives you some idea how horrible this is. Martin Guigui isn’t necessarily a bad director, but he’s working from such a terrible script with a mostly hopeless cast, and that’s not a lot to work with, so he does what any smart director would do and tries to get as much of Dennis Quaid as he can into the movie as humanly possible. And Quaid just doesn’t seem to give a sh*t he’s going way overboard on everything because that’s actually one of the only things about the movie that’s even slightly entertaining rather than being trite and tedious.

This is a bad movie in every respect and for better or worse, the film’s writer and executive producer Bruce Wilkinson passed away before the movie was finished, so he’s more than likely turning in his own grave.Rating: 2.5/10

This weekend last year just saw the release of one new movie, but after two weeks in second place, the Coen Brothers’ True Grit (Paramount) moved into first place with $14.6 million, knocking Universal’s comedy Little Fockers starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro down to second with $13.5 million. Opening in third place was that one new movie, Nicolas Cage’s period action-thriller Season of the Witch (Relativity Media), which opened in third place with $10.6 million in 2,816 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $89 million and this year’s offerings have a chance of doing similar business.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Paramount) – $17.0 million -44% (up .4 million)

2. The Devil Inside (Paramount) – $16.2 million N/A (up 3.4 million)

3. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros) $11.5 million -45%

4. Alvin and the Chipmunks – Chipwrecked (20th Century Fox) – $9.8 million -40%

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony) – $9.2 million -38%

6. War Horse (DreamWorks Pictures) – $9.0 million -38% (up .6 million)

7. We Bought a Zoo (20th Century Fox) – 8.0 million -39%

8. The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount) – $6.5 million -43%

9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Focus Features) – $3.8 million (this is based on a presumed screen count of 750 theaters) (Up .3 million)

10. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) – $2.2 million -35%

Next week, the New Year continues with two new movies and one 3D re-release as Mark Wahlberg returns with the crime-thriller Contraband (Universal), Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton face off in the musical comedy Joyful Noise (Warner Bros.) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast 3D returns to theaters with an added dimension and higher ticket prices.

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Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas