The Devil Inside

The shocking twists in “The Devil Inside” begin immediately. Even before the first scene there’s a title card informing us that “the Vatican did not endorse this film nor aid in its completion.” That’s huge! Normally the Roman Catholic church is heavily involved in the production of cheap, uncreative horror films! It’s pretty much their main focus. Why, I can’t remember the last awful scary movie I saw that didn’t have the Vatican logo on it!

I wish that “disclaimer” were the dumbest thing about this derivative faux-documentary, but it isn’t. Not by a long shot. The dumbest thing about it is that even though it doesn’t feature a single original idea or scary moment, a group of movie-industry professionals chose to put it in theaters. Theaters that charge admission! And it never even rises the level of Fun Bad, where at least you can find enjoyment in the train wreck. A train can’t wreck if it never tries to go anywhere. It’s like they tried to make the blandest, most derivative, least memorable horror movie possible, carefully avoiding anything that might resemble actual entertainment.

Like 98 percent of all horror movies made in the last five years, “The Devil Inside” pretends that it is a documentary. The subject is Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), a young woman who’s trying to find out what happened to her mother, Maria (Suzan Crowley), during an exorcism 20 years ago. The filmmaker, Michael (Ionut Grama), follows Isabella to Rome, where her mother is being held in a mental hospital. Mom has been under lock and key ever since some Catholics tried to exorcise the demons out of her and she killed them (the Catholics). At some point she got transferred to this Italian facility, because for sure the United States is always handing criminally insane people over to foreign asylums, just for fun.

Anyway, Isabella drops in on a class at the Vatican’s School of Exorcism, which not only exists but permits random tourists to drop in. There she befriends two young priests named Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), who have a secret project where they try to cast the demons out of people the Church has given up on. After visiting Mom in the loony bin, Isabella is convinced she’s still possessed by Satan (or by whichever of Satan’s interns was assigned to her 20 years ago), and so then there’s a lot of wheel-spinning and time-wasting before the movie finally gets to the point, which is obviously to have Ben and David try to exorcise Isabella’s mom.

All of which sounds like potentially good fodder for a creepy demonic-possession thriller, if not exactly a groundbreaking one. But instead it’s a weak, tedious waste of time, with even the reliable gimmicks of the genre rendered impotent by apathetic execution. And I really do think “apathetic” is the right word. The screenplay, by director William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman, isn’t just devoid of wit and flavor — it doesn’t even try to have any. (Bell and Peterman were also responsible for 2006’s dumb “Stay Alive,” about a deadly video game.) Bell directs with all the enthusiasm of a guy who was called into work on his day off.

Most damning of all? The movie has no ending. Apparently unable to devise a climax and resolution for their mundane story, Bell and Peterman pulled the old “and that’s where the tape suddenly ran out!” maneuver — the ultimate lazy cop-out for the found-footage genre. The message is clear: the filmmakers didn’t feel like coming up with a satisfying conclusion to a movie that already wasn’t trying very hard. Moviegoers are sometimes very easily entertained, it’s true, but I find it hard to believe that Bell and Peterman honestly believed this pile of nonsense would please anyone.

F (1 hr., 27 min.; R, some harsh profanity and vulgarity, some moderate violence.)

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