Film Review | The Devil Inside

Though creepy in parts, this documentary-style Exorcist wannabe is just a tired re-tread of the ‘found footage’ genre.

Exorcist it ain’t: Fernanda Andrade and Suzan Crowley make for a highly dysfunctional mother-daughter pair in this gimmicky, aimless exorcism thriller.
Exorcist it ain’t: Fernanda Andrade and Suzan Crowley make for a highly dysfunctional mother-daughter pair in this gimmicky, aimless exorcism thriller.

Not every artistic innovation can tolerate all that much use. For every Caravaggio giving us chiaroscuro, there are any number of gimmicky tricks that begin to come off as quite tired after a remarkably short period of time on the scene.

Case in point: the 'found footage' sub-genre that has plagued the cinemas ever since The Blair Witch Project broke the bank. Bolstered by the success of properties like Paranormal Activity, this documentary-style, shaky-cam-dependant way of getting cheap scares out of audiences has had its day.

But like the most recurrent of (largely old school) horror movie beasties, it has proven to be remarkably resilient... and The Devil Inside is yet another thoroughly unglorious re-tread of the same tired territory.

The core premise of the film is a lazily-concocted affair - so perhaps it should come as no surprise that what ensues is largely uninspired.

Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) is a young woman on a mission to reconcile herself with a horrifying family history: in 1989, her mother - Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) - was locked up in a mental facility after brutally killing three clergymen in a spontaneous fit of rage.

Determined to discover whether there is more to her mother's case than just insanity, Isabella decides to head to Rome to film a documentary about exorcisms. Befriending a couple of 'maverick' exorcists, Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), Isabella edges closer to putting her theory into practice... but a distressing visit to her mother at a mental asylum pushes the trio into far more sinister ground.

There's no denying that certain parts of the film are creepy. That's the insidious thing with the 'found footage' format - it's a shortcut for easy scares. When something is presented as 'real', it takes far less work to make it chilling.

The challenge, of course, is sustaining the illusion for an hour and a half. And director William Brent Bell relies too much on the mechanics of the sub-genre to carry him through.

Despite its supposedly newfangled approach to the exorcism film, The Devil Inside is largely a dull experience - its box office and critical failure entirely justified - because it lacks the basic rudiments of storytelling.

The characters are largely cardboard cut-outs: Isabella and Ben are defined by their respective goals, and David's unease with the fact that they're operating outside of the church just feels like a tacked-on plot device.

Worse still, Isabelle's attempt to 'rescue' her mother - the driving engine of the narrative - is allowed to derail into a weak plot twist mid-film, which could have had potential had it been directed to characters we actually cared for. As it stands, all we get is an exercise in a rapidly-fading genre. It's unpleasant, but not in a horrific way.

If anything, it's all rather depressing.

It's not to say that there aren't scenes that won't haunt you. The first exorcism witnessed by Isabelle is shot with some panache, striking a balance between suspenseful dread and the gross-out 'set piece'.

Isabelle's pivotal interview with her mother also has a couple of edge-of-the-seat moments that the rest of the film is remarkably skint on.

Perhaps it could have all worked better as a short film. One advantage of the found footage craze is that you don't always see everything, so a shorter feature could have left more - terrifyingly enough - to the imagination.

But what we're meant to sit through here doesn't even satisfy our basic curiosity. Another thing international audiences have complained about is the film's abrupt ending and again, they're right to do so.

Building up to a certain point and then pulling the rug under the audience's feet can be a bold, daring move.

Here, however, we get a film that just dies, because it wants to die.

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