A title card near the beginning of “The Devil Inside” reads “The Vatican does not endorse this film.” I know how they feel. I can’t endorse it either.
Set in 2009, it’s a mock documentary—think the “Blair Witch Exorcism”—about a daughter’s search to find out the truth about her mother. In 1989 Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), mother of Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) murdered three people during an exorcism. Twenty years later Isabella, documentary camera in tow, travels to Rome where her mother is being treated in an institution. There she hooks up with two rogue priests who perform unauthorized exorcisms. Their examination of Maria—to determine if she is mentally ill or is actually possessed—results in a devilish domino effect.
“The Devil Inside” is an exceedingly silly movie. The naturalism that makes other “found footage” movies like “Paranormal Activity” so effective is missing, replaced with stilted acting, clunky dialogue—When good old mom tells Isabella that her actions are “against God’s will,” Isabella pronounces, “That means something, right?”—and WAY too much pointless exposition. Is it really necessary to explain that the possession of one body by several demons is known in the profession as—wait for it!— “multiple demonic possession”?
Worse, there’s more talk of exorcism than actual exorcisms. They prattle on and on about the particulars of possession, but when they actually do one it is with all the out-of-focus, wobbly camera anti-panache these “found footage” films are known for.
There’s no pea soup, no head spinning, just some contorting and hard to see special effects. Even the battle between good and evil—the thing that made “The Exorcist” the benchmark of devil possession movies—doesn’t register. If you don’t care about the characters you certainly won’t care about whatever may be living inside them.
In its slight 80 minute running time—just about the best thing I can say about this movie is, ‘Hey, at least it wasn’t longer!—“The Devil Inside” has one or two fleeting moments that will raise the hair on the back of your hand. The rest of the time you’ll be resting your head against the back of your hand trying not to fall asleep.
Demonic possession has been terrifying moviegoers for decades.
The Exorcist, the most famous fiendish film, created such a stir with audiences that in 1973 Newsweek ran a cover story entitled The Exorcism Frenzy. Complete with stories of queasy theatre-goers and their Exorcist barf bags, it helped create hysteria and make the movie one of the biggest hits of the year.
The impact The Exorcist had on audiences has yet to be duplicated by any of the dozens of possession movies released in its wake, but this weekend’s The Devil Inside is hoping to bring a little good old-fashioned hellfire back to theatres.
The devil, of course, is the star of any possession movie, even if you don’t actually see him. What’s more petrifying than the idea of Old Scratch taking over your body and making your head spin 360 degrees?
But what about the brave priests who battle Beelzebub? Here’s a few cinematic celebrants who have gone mano-a-mano with Mephistopheles.
Father Lankester Merrin, as portrayed by Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, presided over the most famous Satan skirmish.
The statuesque Swedish actor played Merrin twice — he’s seen in flashbacks in Exorcist II: The Heretic — while Stellan Skarsgård played him in two prequels.
The loopiest of devil hunters must be Father Pierre Barre (Michael Gothard) from the Ken Russell film The Devils. He is a corrupt and despicable holy man who convinces a group of terrified nuns to fake a mass possession with the words, “You will scream! You will blaspheme!” His other questionable methods include “forcible colonic irrigation” with holy water and torture.
Barre isn’t the only real life exorcist to be portrayed on film, however. Both The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins as a real life exorcist tutor and The Exorcism of Emily Rose with Tom Wilkinson as a priest accused of murder when a young woman died during an exorcism, are based on true stories.
More fanciful is Leslie Nielsen as Father Mayii in Repossessed, an Exorcist parody co-starring Linda Blair, who played the possessee in the original film. When told she “has an ungodly voice and maniacal facial expressions” the skeptical Mayii replies, “That doesn’t prove a thing! She could be related to Joe Cocker.”
And finally, Beetlejuice has a different kind of exorcist. Michael Keaton plays a supernatural character called in as a “bio-exorcist” to rid a house of its human inhabitants.