1973 saw the release of not only the best exorcism film of all time, but the best horror of all time in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Since then there have been a number of sequels, remakes and imitations that try to channel the same religious fear that this masterpiece inspired. Using similar marketing techniques, such as audience reaction and apocryphal tales of people leaving cinemas early, The Devil Inside attempts to combine the exorcism film with a documentary-style found footage approach similar to The Blair Witch Project. Made for a budget of $1m is has taken over $80m at the box office, making it another commercially successful entry in the found footage genre.
In 1989 Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) is arrested after making a disturbing call to authorities, informing them that she has murdered three people. Twenty years later, her daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) begins to shoot a documentary showing her travelling to the Vatican to see her mother who is being kept heavily sedated in an asylum for the criminally insane. Once in Rome Isabella befriends two priests on an exorcism course and asks them to check on her mother to see whether she is possessed or mentally ill.
The benefits of the found footage are numerous. Films are cheap to make and almost never lose money at the box office, making them a safe bet for production companies. You can create excellent tension using the handheld cameras with no music or score to speak of and the added realism of ‘this is actually happening.’ The downside is you do not have the production values to create realistic paranormal activity, the acting is often amateur and distracting and the action often feels choppy and disorientating. The Devil Inside shows how easy it is to create tension, but also how easy it is to squander and abuse this very basic strength.
The setup of The Devil Inside is fairly straightforward, and as in many horror films you know exactly where you are at most times. The jumps are predictable and the tension is created using periods of soundless activity and the standard creepy methods such as long stares, dark rooms and mysterious sounds. It is such a crushing shame that there are only two real moments of high-tension and a whole lot of filler. Paranormal Activity worked because it told its audience when to be scared and when it was safe to recover, The Devil Inside fails on even this level, delivering not very scary moments out of the blue and with little to no audience participation.
The acting is uniformly mediocre, the plot a rehash of every exorcism film ever even hinting at the sinful pasts of the priests and victims and following a similar path as The Exorcist. This is until the end. I don’t say this lightly when I call the ending of The Devil Inside, the worst film ending of all time. If you imagine the worst possible ending, perhaps something like “It was all a dream” and this film manages to disappoint even further. The running time of only 88 minutes meant that they could have extended the film by another 10 minutes and given the audience some satisfactory closure.
In an increasingly poor quality, over-marketed world of found footage horror, The Devil Inside sits firmly near the bottom of the pile. It takes what is an easy, if cliched topic and somehow makes it boring, not scary and overall just so substandard that even without the ending it would still be a below par entry.