Welcome to Monday Morning Review, a weekly feature here at Movies.com where we provide a review of a film the Monday morning after it arrives in theaters. As such, this review is written for people who have seen the film, and will discuss plot points, spoilers, etc, so read it only if you've seen it or if you don't mind knowing everything that happens.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a packed theater surrounded by people who are clearly more terrified by safe and predictable studio horror than you are? The kind who gasp and holler at every barking dog and then have to calm themselves back down after a jump-scare by talking to their friends about how stupid it was even though it clearly just played them? It's fascinating; reaction so boisterous you can't even get mad at the people around you for having more legitimate fun with the clichés on the screen than you. Ignorance is bliss.
Well, The Devil Inside targets precisely those people. It's a lazy, poorly-conceived, poorly-executed paint-by-found-footage-numbers attempt to prod audiences, only unlike any of the films it read the cliffnotes on, it gets a little too cheeky with the audience. It slides its hand a little too far up our collective skirt and the result is not only an insulting, presumptuous act, but it's met with boos and jeers and disgusted walkouts by the very same popcorn munchers who were willing to flirt and play dumb to everything leading up to its abrupt ending-- though even calling what happens an ending is so charitable it should be tax deductible. The Devil Inside doesn't have an ending. It has a moment where the lights come up and the words on the screen tell you to leave the money on the nightstand because you just unknowingly paid to get f**ked.
Since Paramount has been understandably bragging about how their million-dollar movie made its acquisition budget back from its midnight screenings alone, you may already know this, but it's important to emphasize that Paramount didn't make The Devil Inside. It was an indie horror movie that, like dozens and dozens of other found-footage movies, failed to get onto the fest circuit, so they simply bought the latest film from the director of Stay Alive before any audiences could see it and held it until a competition-free January weekend when they could dump it in theaters and hopefully make a quick buck like they did with Paranormal Activity. And obviously it worked because, now having three PAs under their belt, the studio knows intimately that audiences love to play dumb and flirt. What makes the release of The Devil Inside offensive, however, is unlike the PA series, it's braindead and has bad intentions.
I bring up the business side of things not because I'm angry about an open line item on Paramount's fiscal forecast and William Brent Bell's film conveniently fitting on said line, but because of that final, lecherous wink at the audience when we catch it with its hands up our skirt. Had Paramount spent that million on any number of other, better indies (like The Loved Ones), they could have still made an opening weekend profit without taking advantage of a willing customer base. But that's not what they did. What they did was buy a movie that was marketable on the outside and cavernous on the inside.
There's just nothing of value going on in Brent's film. Sure, the Italian setting is a nice relocation from American suburbia, but location is where everything unique about The Devil Inside begins and ends. Its characters start off resembling people but quickly become uninspired, walking plot points who, with every slowly passing minute of runtime, seem to forget things as minor as how to secure arm straps to as major as how to react when someone tries to drown a baby. (And it's not just the main quartet, either. The bystanders in the baptism scene don't even react like Earthlings.) Every single conflict is contrived just so these idiots can have something to argue about, and when the typical exorcism schtick hits the fan, they turn into total tools who deserve to spontaneously burst into flames. At least then there'd be something to look at other than yet another girl with fake arms and bones in serious need of a swig of Skelegrow potion.
But since the world isn't just, audiences are stuck with another stock batch of bendy girl(s), jaded priest(s), terrible fake filmmakers, and possessions that are foul-mouthed but never actually foul. And that would be forgettable if The Devil Inside were actually a complete film, but it isn't. There's no third act to it. We have a brown-eyed innocent girl learning the rogue exorcist ropes, we have the exorcism-gone wrong that spreads the demon, then the surviving characters literally die in a car crash trying to drive to the film's third act. And the filmmakers then have the unbelievable gall to advertise a URL to learn more about what happened.
Yes, The Devil Inside is the type of movie that shows the URL for a marketing website before it shows the director's credit. It's the type of out-of-touch pandering that thinks people in the year 2012 still actually believe found footage movies are real. Basically, and this would hold true regardless if it opened on 2,000 screens or went straight to the cheap bin at Walmart, it's the type of exploitation that thinks its audience has sawdust for brains.
And that's why I get a giant smile on my face when I recall the moment the lights went up and the entire theater around me erupted into a volcano of disdain. Sure, audiences may be sheep that flock to these trendy types of horror movies, but at least they're aware enough of what they're getting into to know when someone is pissing in their face.