Best Movies of All Time + William Brent Bell



"Three people are dead. I... killed... them."
-- Maria Rossi
The Devil Inside is a 2012 horror film directed by William Brent Bell that deals with the topic of exorcism. In 1989, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) committed a multiple murder on three members of the clergy as they attempted to perform an exorcism on her. After being committed as criminally insane, she was sent to a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Rome, Italy. Nearly twenty years later, Maria's daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), having only recently learned the details of her mother's arrest, travels to Rome in order to determine whether her mother is mentally ill or is actually possessed. She enlists the help of independent documentary filmmaker Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama) to capture her entire trek. After meeting with her mother, Isabella receives help and guidance from two young exorcists, Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth) and Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman). Together, the four try to piece together the issues behind Maria's alleged possession and work towards ridding her of her longtime pain and suffering once and for all.

The exorcism theme in cinema has been prevalent throughout my entire lifetime, but it's only in the past decade or so that it has managed to become a box office staple. As anyone would argue, the 1973 film The Exorcist is the grandfather of the modern-day exorcism films, and it set the standard for what films in the genre should hope to achieve. While The Exorcist spawned a few sequels of its own, other filmmakers have since attempted to take the genre above and beyond what that 1973 movie hoped to reach. It wasn't until the 2000s, however, that audiences became bombarded by a seemingly endless stream of movies in this genre. It has almost reached the point where expecting an film about exorcism has become an annual event (I cite 2010's The Last Exorcism and 2011's The Rite as my evidence). Each subsequent film tries to outdo its predecessor, and The Devil Inside is no different.

Like the aforementioned The Last Exorcism, this film was crafted in the faux documentary format. It proposes itself to be a story of actual events, and the audience is merely watching the found footage that is only now being released to the public. While some films have made this format work in the past - the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project stands out most prominently - I feel as though this particular subgenre has started to wear a little bit thin. For example, online encyclopedia tentatively lists that fifteen "found footage" films were released in 2011 alone, whereas only eight were released before the year 2000. Sure, it was once a great way to suck the audiences into a story, but personally, I'm getting a tad bit tired of it all.

To step aside for a moment, I'd like to talk about the acting in The Devil Inside. I personally believe that "found footage" films generally tend to succeed on one particular level, and that's in creating believable characters that seem genuinely real. If you're going to purport that you just happened to land your hands on some juicy old videotapes or allegedly true and real events, you better make sure that your actors don't act like cardboard cut-outs and mannequins. Fortunately, this film does well with its cast, and although there were a couple issues here and there, everyone generally plays their part to a tee. Fernanda Andrade is decent as our lead, but I thought she was a little overshadowed by our two central priests. Helmuth and Quarterman play off one another well and add an interesting interpretation of two young exorcists trying to change the game. The real acting award, however, has to go to Crowley, who manages to steal the show with her portrait of the possessed. This is usually the case in films like this: the actors who play the possessed characters are given the chance to let it all hang out and have no reservations, ultimately crafting the most realistic fits of insanity within a respective film. So I tip my hat to Suzan Crowley for doing just that.

The Devil Inside does offer a slightly interesting plot-line, even if it doesn't offer anything all that different. Like last year's The Rite, this film takes its epicenter to the Vatican, bringing us into the lion's den of exorcism, so to speak. Also somewhat like that film, we're following a couple of young hotshot priests who want to shake up the establishment and perform exorcisms on their own time, no matter how the Church is going to react. There are a few moments where the screenplay seems like its working well, but then you actually get into the thick of the exorcisms themselves, and you see where the filmmakers true intentions lie. Rather than offering a clever or original story, the real appeal of exorcism films in the twenty-first century is their ability to out-shock their predecessors. In the horror genre today, it's all about making your audience gasp and cover their eyes rather than have them settled into a suspense-filled story. It's about making them cringe and jump out of their seats rather than have a movie gnaw at them for days and weeks afterward. In that sense, The Devil Inside does relatively well, offering a couple of cringe-worthy moments, but it's still relatively tame compared to some other exorcism films from the past. I just wish we could've gotten a little more in terms of story to aid the rest of the film.

As a result of the shoddy screenplay, The Devil Inside manages to fail just a bit solely based on the fact that it proved to be just a little too boring. The humdrum nature doesn't allow the audience to remain engaged with the story, and although there are a few moments where you'll want to be hooked, you're ultimately going to forget about this one relatively quickly after the end credits roll. One of the reasons The Exorcist has become such an iconic film is the lasting power of some of the images from the film. The Devil Inside doesn't begin to come close.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: D-
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2012, Devil Inside, Evan Helmuth, Fernanda Andrade, horror, Ionut Grama, movie review, Simon Quarterman, Suzan Crowley, and more:

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