The Devil Inside Review
Should The Digital Fix have commenced the assessment of films on the quality of their marketing initiatives, The Devil Inside would be challenging for one of the top slots for 2012. Forget the tired faux web site (http://www.therossifiles.com, if you're interested), replete with 'authentic' dodgy amateur fonts and poorly formatted background images; it's the impressive trailer saturating our screens earlier in the year which sparked many a horror buff's hunger to experience the full unexpurgated product. Particularly impressive was the ability of the TV trailer to extend an icy cold grip around your subconscious in a half minute running time, thanks, perhaps, to the creepy nun who adorns the cover of this release and enjoys barely an incidental part in the film itself.
One might presume that somebody especially shrewd, cynical, and mercenary was involved in the approach to the marketing of this film, and it could be suggested that said person was especially cognisant of the gulf that existed between the impact of the TV trailer, with its 'all scares bundled into half a minute' approach, and the impact of the resultant film - itself only running somewhere around the 80 minute mark. If this may sound a little unfair, you should consider the fact that the film was not screened for critics before its release, and as a result, the creepy trailer delivered plentiful bounty in the form of a huge opening weekend and impressive box office returns. By the time the second weekend of screenings took place, the film had plummeted horribly; the enormous bubble of anticipation had been unceremoniously popped by the stark realisation that this film simply wouldn't deliver on its convincing promises.
William Brent Bell's film seeks to capitalise using the formula of other forays into this genre territory, presenting a series of semi-shaky documentary-style chunks of footage as genuine, authentic material. When executed well, this formula can pay rich dividends, and The Blair Witch Project demonstrated how this approach in tandem with an amateur web site can equal box office success and the guarantee of some high quality shivers. Blair Witch delivered these shivers very effectively back in 1999, but the website/found footage combination is a well-worn trick now and doesn't have much left by way of mileage. Eli Roth-sponsored outing The Last Exorcism (directed splendidly by Daniel Stamm) cleverly developed the genre by fusing the found footage/documentary approach with some chilling exorcism imagery, and it's surely this output which has had the most influence on William Brent Bell. Yet the one essential element which makes the afore-mentioned films chilling and effective is largely absent from Bell's picture, and that element is authenticity.
OK, so we know that the endlessly trudging (and literally snotty-nosed) kids in Blair Witch... aren't really locked in the peril they purport to be, and we realise that poor Nell in The Last Exorcism is just Ashley Bell performing some highly impressive contortion, yet somewhere, in the irrational recesses of our subconscious, we suspend reality sufficiently to allow our nerves to be manipulated by the visuals before us. The Devil Inside never reaches a stage where it's in danger of threatening this most gleefully dark area of our subconscious, and we're never drawn into fooling ourselves that what we see before us is remotely authentic.
There are a number of factors which conspire to rob Bell's film of this vital authenticity. The odd selection of nationalities is the first. Whilst a diverse range of nationalities is often a rich ingredient for any successful film, there's something about the two British priests practising exorcisms in Rome which feels...well, unauthentic. Additionally, lead character Isabella (Fernanda Andrade, who is certainly an impressive visual presence) has been living in America since her mother - whose supposedly failed exorcism resulted in the death of three people in attendance - was transported to a mental hospital in Rome by the Catholic church. That situation just doesn't feel remotely believable, not even in the context of a horror film, nor to the darker recesses of your subconscious.
Perhaps the main contributor to the denial of authenticity is the acting. Fernanda Andrade is visually appealing and generally inoffensive as Isabella, and Suzan Crowley delivers by far the best performance here as the crazy/possessed (delete as appropriate, if you still care) mother, building the only genuinely tense moments throughout the film. The male contingent is the real issue though, with the priestly pairing proving particularly problematic. Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth play the uber-serious priests with conviction, but we simply can't connect to them; the characters they portray are without depth, without humour, and without any dimension, despite efforts later in the film to introduce some intrigue. Alas, attempts to develop their characters fails; as the film progresses, an attempt is made at the midpoint to introduce some inter-character tension and to hint at some historical secrets which may lend the characters some sinister, repressed depth, yet the handling of this is clumsy, badly-timed, and ill-fitting.
Whilst the output is very disappointing, The Devil Inside doesn't fail entirely, though it's only the most devoted of exorcism horror fans that will excuse the film its raft of crimes. On balance, the filming of Bell's product isn't entirely without competence, and its difficult to deny that the exorcism of the Italian girl in the basement is initially impressive. The scenes of bodily contortion are executed very well indeed, and some sections of the exorcisms are exhilarating and depicted well. At other times, any amassed tension is rapidly dissipated by substandard acting, or - perhaps worse, in the context of a horror film - the unfortunate and accidental delivery of some entirely unintended humour, especially as the possessed spew forth all manner of profane obscenities. These evil words are more liable to raise a titter than a gasp amongst a 2012 audience.
Overall, it's a disappointing picture after the slick marketing campaign, and once the occasional flashes of tension and shock have passed, we're left with a film which eschews creativity and imagination in favour of cliche, some flat acting, and ill-considered character development.
Paramount release The Devil Inside via their Insurge imprint, but detailed analysis of the transfer is problematic, not only because 'found footage' films have an inevitably 'lo-fi' nature, but also because the review copy supplied was, in fact, a screener disc. That said, the quality of the image on the disc was pretty good all things considered, with no perceptible distortion or noise, and a decent representation of colour and detail, especially with the impressive aerial views of Rome.
I can tell you that the disc is released encoded for region 2 audiences, and includes subtitles for the hard of hearing, in addition to subtitles in Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish, none of which were available on the screener disc I received. I can also confirm that the film is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
The screener disc I received presents the sound in Dolby 2.0, and the sound was acceptable enough, without noise or distortion. Expect better with the official release, which includes Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English, French, and Spanish.
It is my understanding that there are not any extras with this Paramount release of The Devil Inside.
An uninspiring jumble of ill-fitting British exorcists, shaky cameras, and tired 'shocks', there isn't much left of The Devil Inside after the impressive trailer and devious/intelligent/cunning/disingenuous (select according to general level of cynicism) marketing strategy.