The Devil Inside was, for a time, the #1 movie of 2012, and for that we must all carry part of the blame. No, you cannot claim you were in Austria during this particular war. The falsely-described “found footage” horror flick opened to a staggering $33 million, more than the unjustly-maligned Dark Shadows can boast, despite The Devil Inside being nothing more than a tired, familiar and characterless genre installment with only the impressive contortions of Bonnie Morgan to recommend it. Fortunately for all of us, she has plenty of YouTube videos so you don’t have to waste a single penny on the Blu-ray release of The Devil Inside, now available on Blu-ray, exclusively from Best Buy (for some reason), which is devoid of anything even resembling a special feature.
The Devil Inside stars Fernanda Andrade as Isabella Rossi, a young woman who recently discovered, off-screen and without fanfare, that her mother murdered three people during a botched exorcism in 1989, and has spent the ensuing decades in a Catholic mental hospital in Rome. Joined, for no particular reason, by a documentary filmmaker, she makes the journey across the Atlantic to find her mother and the truth about real-life exorcisms, eventually teaming up with two priests, Father David (Evan Helmuth) and Father Ben (Simon Quarterman), who against the church’s commands have been ridding the world of demons on their own personal time.
The gimmick of The Devil Inside, beyond the mockumentary conceit (which doesn’t qualify as a gimmick anymore), is that the movie features multiple demonic possessions instead of just one. The priests introduce Isabella to the world of exorcisms by taking her on a memorable practice run, in which contortionist Bonnie Morgan plies her groovy trade and really sells the idea that having a demon inside you would be rather unpleasant and do unfortunate things to your body. After a botched attempt to cure Isabella’s mother, played with bravado but surprisingly limited screen time by Suzan Crowley, the priests find themselves dealing with a number of escaped supernatural forces that have to be dealt with separately.
The Devil Inside sounds like a strong pitch, possibly even one with TV spin-off potential, but by playing it all deathly seriously for the “found footage” audiences, the filmmakers shoot themselves in the foot. The serial exorcist notion lends itself well to the kind of genre mash-up conceits that have proved enjoyable in films and television series like Behind the Mask and “Supernatural,” but the attempts to play The Devil Inside like it was the truth behind an unholy phenomenon lead to boring exposition and a lack of character development which undermines the actual drama. The film also has a frustrating undercurrent of female body horror that manifests as uncontrollable menstruation and admonishing subplots about abortion which, given the film’s vague concern with genetic predisposition to “evil,” or at least mental instability, would probably have been better served as the film’s focus, as opposed to the vaguely insulting subtext it offers instead.
With bland heroes, minimal drama, unexamined themes and a cop out ending, it’s hard to give The Devil Inside any kind of recommendation, even though individual moments are briefly unsettling. The film’s success seems to be the result of a marketing campaign that is infinitely more imaginative than the film itself, culminating in last week’s spook house press tour of the supposedly haunted Linda Vista Community Hospital in Boyle Heights, California. You gotta give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately none of it belongs to the makers of The Devil Inside.