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December 19, 2012

The Devil Inside

(2012, Dir. by William Brent Bell.)

I'm gonna start by saying that I didn't hate The Devil Inside.  Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the problem. This might be the most under-produced studio released horror film of all-time.  I'm not sure if "under-produced" is a real thing. If it was, I'd imagine that it meant that a film basically seemed to have no polish added to it and no input from an observer who could give suggestions and make the movie more prepared for selling to audiences.  Is that what a producer does? I don't know, I'm from Iowa.

Anyway, The Devil Inside is one of those horror ideas that seems like a home run from the start.  Found footage filmmaking, investigation into stranger murders, plenty of exorcists, a lot of craziness, repeat.  I know we just had The Last Exorcism like two years ago, but hey - there's always room for an exorcism in The Mike's realm.  So, when previews showed up and showed contorting creepy women and lots of evil screaming, I got an idea that this film just might work.

Instead, we get a seventy-five minute collection of scenes that push through a murder investigation, a mother/daughter relationship that has been destroyed by the potential possession, and an evolving final act - if you can even say that such a brief film has "acts" - that moves quickly and never lets the viewer get invested in what is going on.  It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid playing with action figures.  You think that the battle you're creating is an epic confrontation that accurately represents the struggle between good (i.e. - G.I. Joe, Autobots, Hulk Hogan) and bad (i.e. - Cobra, Decepticons, "Ravishing" Rick Rude). But other people just see that battle as a dumb kid smashing plastic together for 12 seconds before throwing both action figures aside so they can go eat a Jell-O Pudding Pop.

The Devil Inside just doesn't seem to know how to tell its story. In fact, this might be one of the best examples of what not to do with a found footage film.  Sure, you can get away with making your film on the cheap while filming horror this way, but you have to get the viewers invested with the conflict.  To borrow a phrase from the brilliant deconstruction  of the slasher film in Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Devil Inside seems to need "an Ahab."  (The Cliff's Notes definition of Ahab: A character - generally older, battle-worn, and male - in the story who is so passionate about the evil they face that they make us believe in said evil.) If The Devil Inside would have supplemented the hand held sequences in some passionate exposition from an actor like Malcolm McDowell or Robert Englund or the late Donald Pleasence, and you'd suddenly have a much more engaging film. Look at Pleasence in Halloween: the whole reason he's there is to spout nonsense about how serious the danger is, just so the audience understands it. And it works. Not enough horror films use the Ahab these days, and it's a darn shame.  You could take this film, sprinkle a bit of Ahab commentary throughout the film, tack that Ahab on to the ending, and watch it instantly become better.  But hey, why pay for a good actor when you can throw a website address on the screen at the end? (Yes, it happens.)

A counterargument could be made that no film about demons - or possibly the Devil himself - needs to remind the viewer how serious the situation is.  But you should still never underestimate the impatience of horror viewers.  Besides, it's not like the film is an overly smart piece of horror fiction. (On a related note, don't let those "based on a true story" title cards fool you.)  There's nothing profound going on between the characters - the daughter of the possessed, a couple of priests, and a documentarian - and the force behind the film's possession is perhaps the most bland and uninteresting demon/devil you'll ever see on film.

And then there's the abrupt ending, which many perceive as a slap in the face to the audience. I had heard about the ending before seeing the film, so I was very eager to see how it played out.  I don't think I'd jump to calling it the worst ending ever - plenty of others have - but it's definitely a surprising way to stop the film. The film's listed run time is 83 minutes, but the final shot of the film occurs almost exactly at the 75 minute mark.  And then the credits roll at what appears to be half the speed of normal film credits*. They roll, in silence, for 8 minutes. And that's it. The movie's over. They could have at least had Ferris Bueller tell us all it was time to go home.

(* - I actually did the math. It takes each name 35 seconds to get from the bottom of the screen to the top during the end credits. In comparison, recent release Silent Night had end credits that take 8 seconds. Another recent horror, The Pact, shows each name for 4 seconds. Why am I pointing this out? Because it absolutely blows my mind that The Devil Inside pads its runtime by 8 minutes with end credits.)

Now that I've said all that, I wasn't insulted by The Devil Inside.  It has some decent moments, particularly in the exorcism/demon scenes, and it's not completely inept when the action's going on.  There's a rather effective scene at a baptism, and the 15 minutes leading up to the ending seem like they're leading somewhere.  Sure, that makes it even worse when the final shots occur, but at least there was something there.

The Devil Inside isn't the worst horror film I've seen this year, and it's honestly not even close to that title. But it is one of the most sadly ineffective films I've seen. Like I warned in the beginning, it feels like the film needed a whole lot of polish before it was ready to be released all over the world. A less frantic, more involving approach would have done wonders for this story. As is, The Devil Inside exists as a fascinating failure and a half-cooked waste of time.

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