Monday, January 16, 2012


The horror chiller "The Devil Inside" (O out of ****) gives movies about exorcism a bad name. Face it, William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973) still ranks as the best exorcist movie of all time. Nothing made since then can match the impact of this landmark movie, least of all its lackluster sequels. Nevertheless, Hollywood continues to crank out new movies about exorcism as if time had eroded the demonic fury of "The Exorcist.” Warner Brothers did the next best thing; in 2000, they re-released Friedkin's frightening film in a revamped version that performed startlingly well at the box office. Lately, the studios have conjured up three exorcism movies. Sir Anthony Hopkins starred in the respectable hair-raiser "The Rite" back in the spring of 2011. Sadly, "The Rite" bore a PG-13 rating so it possessed little bite. The low-budget, Louisiana-set, yell-bent yarn "The Last Exorcism" preceded "The Rite" by several months, but it furnished more irony than chills. Now, Paramount Pictures has released writer & director William Brent Bell's micro-budget "The Devil Inside," another misguided entry in the pseudo-documentary, ‘found footage’ genre. Like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield,” and the “Paranormal Activity” trilogy, "The Devil Inside" sets out to enhance its simulated verisimilitude by featuring a character who documents the action on video. Neither “The Blair Witch Project” nor “Cloverfield” exploited this approach with any success. Moreover, none of the subtlety and artistry which exemplified the "Paranormal Activity" epics augments this abrupt 87-minute gobbledygook. Worse, "The Devil Inside" regales us with lukewarm exorcism scenes and lackluster performances. You know an exorcism movie is in trouble when a barking dog provides its scariest moment.

Attractive Isabella Rossi (Brazilian-born actress Fernanda Andrade of "Why Am I Doing This?") is the daughter of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley of "Wild about Harry”) who went berserk back in 1989. "The Devil Inside" opens with Maria's cryptic phone conversation with a 911 operator and her confession that she killed two priests and a nun during an exorcism at her house. Afterward, we're treated to a behind-the-scenes peep at the gory crime scene; detectives wander through the blood-splattered residence in confidential footage mocked up to resemble grainy, decades old VHS tape. Ultimately, the court rules Maria is guilty by reason of insanity when she slew the three people. Eventually, Maria winds up heavily sedated in Rome, Italy, at the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Director William Brent Bell fast-forwards to December 2009. A grown-up Isabella, who was only a child when her mother slaughtered the Catholics, hires documentary filmmaker Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama of "The Whistleblower") to chronicle her mom's case. Basically, she wants to learn whether her mom is possessed by a demon or is mentally ill. Furthermore, she wants to convince herself that whatever happened to mom won’t happen to her. In other words, does demon possession or mental illness run in her family?

Isabella and Michael fly to Rome to visit Maria. While she is in the Eternal City, Isabella sits in on an exorcism lecture at a Catholic school. Afterward, she meets a couple of clerics, Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman of "The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior") and Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth of "Fever Pitch"), who are pretty liberal minded about exorcisms. If the Church refuses to countenance an exorcism, then this dynamic duo deliver the demons on the sly without the church’s blessing. Isabella wants to know more about exorcisms, and she is prepared to get a Ph.D. in demon possession. However, Rawlings advises Isabella to forgo any more exorcist classes. Instead, he invites her to witness an exorcist with David and him. Isabella's first exorcism occurs in the basement of a house in Rome. Rawlings and Keane use modern-day gadgets to support them. They outfit their patients with a heart monitor and photograph the size of the patient’s pupils to determine their actual condition. The young Italian girl, Rosa (Bonnie Morgan of “Piranha”), who they exorcise spews some profanity and has her period. At one point, she breaks her bonds and scuttles up a wall like a roach, but the priests cast out her demon. Isabella is now prepared to meet her mom.

Maria surprises Isabella when she reminds her daughter that an abortion she consented to years before won't put her in God's good graces. Naturally, Isabella is appalled by this revelation from somebody who hasn't seen her in twenty years. Later, the Fathers attach Maria to their gadgets, and she surprises them. Not only does she utter epithets in several tongues, but she also clobbers Father Rawlings and sends him flying across the room. Nothing that either Isabella or the Fathers discover about Maria convinces the Vatican to review Maria's case. As it turns out, the Vatican has long since washed its hands of Maria. This surprises our protagonists despite the fact that Maria killed three ordained exorcists back in 1989. Meantime, Father Keane experiences feelings of paranoia, and he has good reason. The devil inside Maria has taken residence up in him! Keane almost drowns an infant during a baptism. Later, he relieves a Roman cop of his firearm and finishes himself off. Of course, Michael is speechless. Unfortunately, this all this creates chaos of another kind which is more calculated to make you cackle rather than cringe.

"The Devil Inside" isn’t as scary as “The Exorcist.” The closest Bell's film comes to scary is creepy. Ultimately, however, creepy degenerates into campy. Nothing in this pedestrian horror movie will make you sleep with the lights on all night. The disclaimer at the outset that "the Vatican does not endorse this movie” shouldn’t surprise anybody. Worse, Bell and co-producer Michael Peterman wrap up everything far too quickly with an abrupt ending that sabotages any sense of closure. The last shot contains a website address ( all the answers are presumably available. Mind you, this is a terrible way to conclude a movie, but then “The Devil Inside” isn’t worth a Hail Mary.