When Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) was a small child, there was… an incident. Her mother Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) killed three members of the clergy while the two priests and a nun were performing an exorcism on her without the Vatican’s permission. Isabella grows up, and her mother gets shipped off to a mental hospital in Rome, right in the shadow of the Vatican.
Fortunately for Isabella, being so close to the Vatican gives her a unique opportunity to meet a pair of priests, Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), who practiced unlicensed exorcisms using a unique mix of medical science and religious rituals to determine who is simply mentally ill and who has an actual Satan infestation. Of course, this unique combination of situations makes Isabella’s situation like candy to documentarian Michael (Ionut Grama), who for reasons unknown has decided to document the whole process.
Of course, the exorcism of demons isn’t as easy as it looks in movies or on television, and is fraught with danger for both the priests, the possessed, and any innocent bystanders. Will the two priests get the demons out of Maria Rossi, or will they be lucky to make it out alive after tangling with the supernatural?
The Devil Inside provided me with one of the most unique movie experiences I’ve ever had, and not in a good way. I’ve seen some bad movies, and I’ve seen some packed theaters full of disappointed audience members (The Matrix Reloaded for instance), but I have never heard an entire theater groan en masse like I did at the finale of this particular movie. Literally, when the ending title card popped up inviting people to go to the film’s official tie-in website to learn more facts about the Rossi case, there was a unified, impressively loud expression of disgust.
The acting wasn’t bad. Fernanda Andrade is an effective lead actress, not that she’s given much to do. The stand-out performers, as usual, are the possibly possessed folks. In this case, Suzan Crowley as Maria Rossi and professional contortionist Bonnie Morgan as Rosa. Crowley gets to chew some scenery as the original possessed mother, while Morgan’s physical performance is an absolute marvel of just what the human body is capable of doing, bending-wise.
It’s nice to see a contortionist get to do some work, and that they used practical effects for some of the shots of the demon-infested writhing about, but aside from that the movie wasn’t terribly impressive.
The script, from William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman (son of catalog magnate and Seinfeld inspiration J. Peterman), is pretty standard exorcism stuff, albeit without much of the rumination on matters of faith that come with the territory and more concern/criticism concerning the Vatican’s bureaucracy when it comes to authorizing exorcisms. The entire subplot of the documentary filmmaker following Isabella around was basically unnecessary, and the conceit determines the filming style director William Brent Bell uses when convenient.
Yes, it’s one of those found footage movies, complete with pointless intertitles to give us an impression of passing time and of locations. There’s a whole lot of shaky, out-of-focus camerawork, and a great deal of actors looking at the camera guy while reciting their lines. However, it’s not consistently found footage; there are some points where it appears that a professional camera rig is used to capture the action, and those are the scenes that work the best.
I’ve seen a lot of documentaries, and most of them don’t make me queasy due to bad camera work. I’m not sure why found footage mockumentaries insist on perpetuating this trope, but I wish it would go away. After all, most documentaries or amateur movies try to look good, not bad. Then again, giving its terrible ending, maybe The Devil Inside is supposed to be bad and I missed the whole point.
Until that abrupt, and dare I say stupid finale, the movie itself was pretty entertaining. It was a pretty standard exorcism movie, but moved quickly and didn’t skimp on the creepy scenes, but then it ended with a ham-fisted advertisement for a website I will never visit on general principle. There’s nothing more unsatisfying than paying to watch a viral ad campaign stretched over 90 minutes.