It's never fun to report that the first horror movie of the year is lousy but yet that seems to be an annual tradition. January releases are notoriously bad, with the likes of The Rite (2011), Legion (2010), and One Missed Call (2008) standing as evidence to that. Now we can add The Devil Inside to that list. No doubt looking to score another Paranormal Activity-sized hit, Paramount has heavily promoted this exorcism thriller. What a shame that they couldn't have spent a little of that ad money on fixing The Devil Inside's dismal climax so that the word of mouth wouldn't be so poisonous.
For most of its running time, The Devil Inside is agreeable nonsense. Director and co-writer William Brent Bell plays it all straight-faced and faux-educational. Even if you think exorcisms and religion are a bunch of hooey, the clinical presentation that Bell goes for early on is involving and seems to show some research into the subject (Did you know that a key sign of possession is extreme pupil dialation? I didn't.).
With cameras documenting her journey, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), travels to Rome to visit her institutionalized mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) who Isabella believes may have been possessed when she committed three murders twenty years earlier. Isabella's investigation into her mother's condition puts her in contact with Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), two priests who are conducting exorcisms without the church's approval. Together they attempt to discern the true nature of Maria's condition.
From this set-up, there's the potential for an eerie, ambiguous film. But Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman aren't out to make that kind of movie. Instead they're going for all the satanic (tubular) bells and whistles they can conjure. Once the first onscreen exorcism hits, and any doubt in the supernatural goes along with it, events become more crazed and mad-cap as the movie hurtles towards what promises to be an exciting climax - but then it all abruptly comes to a (literally) crashing halt in a manner so sudden that audiences will do their own version of Linda Blair's 360 degree head spin.
The sizable audience I saw The Devil Inside with was totally on board with the movie up until its final seconds - screaming, gasping, and occasionally chuckling throughout its running time. But when the movie suddenly cut to the credits (with a helpful web address provided for anyone who wants to learn more about the case!), the unanimous outburst of disappointment was loud and immediate.
No ad campaign can keep bad word of mouth from spreading once a film is out - especially not in the age of the internet - so instead of studios putting so much money into tricking people into seeing a turkey, shouldn't they do all they can to make a movie that people can legitimately enjoy and recommend rather than just leaving them feeling suckered? I just don't get it. And the selling of the movie aside, when filmmakers bungle a horror movie so badly, I have to wonder - is it because they don't have the talent to do better, or because they don't have a feel for the genre, or is it because they have such a contempt for the audience that they don't think anyone going to see a movie like The Devil Inside has any critical faculties?
Whatever the case, The Devil Inside is a letdown. Bad horror movies don't dampen my love of the genre but they do make me feel had and that's never a good feeling. Here's hoping that with the release of The Devil Inside that the worst of 2012's horror crop is already out of the way.