When it comes to horror, I don't really know why, but I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. It seems like all the films that people have despised in the last decade have suited me just fine. Nope, I wasn't offended by the Halloween, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and when Saw was spitting out an assault of installments, I made sure to be at the theater on opening weekend every year. Furthermore, I dug Cloverfield, got spooked by The Grudge, and had an absolute blast with the Paranormal Activity franchise.
I'm sure I lost plenty of readers with such admissions, but just because I've enjoyed many of the films people seem to hate, doesn't mean that I'm completely oblivious to a film's shortcomings or actually like every movie I see... I just tend to keep my expectations in check.
A few examples? Well, the final chapter of the Saw saga wasn't nearly as gratifying as it should have been, not by a long shot, and I also felt Paranormal Activity 3 finally jumped the shark with its cliched 'Hollywood ending'. Last but not least, The Last Exorcism, which was a promising Exorcist/found-footage mixer, had been the biggest disappointment of all with its bland characters, lack of suspense and a finale that seemed too fantastical for the film's down to earth premise. Anyway, as far as the films I actually did enjoy, I know that they have a plethora of issues and are far from being great films, but I also went into most of these flicks knowing what to expect. Above any other genre, horror really does sort of require you to have a sliding bar when it comes to the quality of any given film. Some aspire to be great cinema (The Exorcist), while others just want to be hokey and silly and make sure above all else, you're having fun (Resident Evil). But, there are plenty of people out there that hold varying films to similar standards, so sometimes flicks are unjustly shunned by moviegoers because of word of mouth that's less than flattering. That being said, I'm sure we can all agree on two things - First, all horror movies are not created equally, and second, people should watch a film for themselves before passing judgment on it. It's for these reasons that when I saw The Devil Inside get pulverized as 2012's worst film only six days into the new year, I had to raise an eyebrow, put on my skepticism hat and say, "Really?" Making such a claim so early in the year is insanely irresponsible of any reviewer, so I found all the negative press surrounding this film to be a challenge - Worst movie of the year? You don't say! Fine. I'll sit down and watch it for myself, just so I can see if it's really as bad as everyone says it is...
Well, let's begin to get to the bottom of this - Is The Devil Inside really that terrible a film, or was it merely given a bad rep by unrealistic expectations? Well, I guess I got burned on this one - The Devil Inside isn't a good film, and its failure is not the result of being unfairly compared with The Exorcist.
The premise of the film is as simple as it gets - In 1989, a woman killed 3 people while having an exorcism performed on her. Of course, doctors have written the possession story off as a mental health problem and condemned her to life inside an asylum... which just so happens to reside in Italy near the Vatican. Fast forward to 2009, and her mid-20's daughter, Isabella, has finally been exposed to the truth surrounding the triple homicide in '89, and naturally, she has a lot of questions. Is her mother possessed, or is she just a madwoman? If the latter, then why was she moved to a facility near the Vatican? Things just aren't adding up, so she decides to hop a plane to Italy and find out what really happened... while committing her experience to film, of course.
Now, it's not the basic plot that bothers me, as that's pretty much par for the course with the found-footage/documentary sub-genre. No, much to the film's credit, this basic outline works really well for the first 45-50 minutes. With interview segments scattered throughout, the look and feel of this movie really emulates a program I'd see late-night on the History channel (you know, when they focus on presenting their wild theories about aliens and paranormal phenomenon), and that really helps to validate these events as non-fiction. Furthermore, The Devil Inside does a well enough job at pacing itself - We get a nice little scare at the beginning to set the tone, but from that point on, the tension grows ever so slowly until the inevitable confrontation between Isabella and the demon that has taken her mother. As far as documentary horror flicks go, the first two-thirds of this film are crafted about as well as one could hope for, and even provides a bit of unexpected depth by exploring an angle where priests in Italy are risking all to go against the Vatican, performing exorcisms without consent so people who are truly in need can get the help they deserve.
That being said, to say the final act crumples under its own weight would be a massive understatement. What was an increasingly frightening experience eventually turns into a jumbled mess of undeveloped ideas. Honestly, it's like the writers hit a brick wall when penning the plot, and instead of taking the time to keep the story's integrity intact, just started throwing any and every Hollywood cliche at the wall to see what would stick. This isn't just a shame, it's a tragedy, as The Devil Inside had executed its potential pretty well up to that point. Whereas the first two acts do a great job at keeping these events grounded in reality, the final act goes wayyyy over the top and the end result is just... dreadful (and not in a good way). I honestly think the writers just gave up... and the fact that there isn't even a real ending to The Devil Inside is proof of that. The final shot of the film is merely a screen of text that directs us to a website... you know, so we can continue to follow the 'ongoing investigation'. I mean, really? That's a huge middle finger to the audience. Not only that, but the website really doesn't provide any information that follows up on these events anyway. You know what we get? A bunch of videos that should have been used for some viral marketing before the film's release, and what I assume to be some deleted scenes. What an unbelievably epic waste of time.
It's really no wonder why this film wasn't screened for critics prior to release, or why so many people were quick to call this the worst movie of 2012 right out of the gate. Still, we're only about halfway through the year, but I can't think of a movie that's left me as unsatisfied as this one, not yet at least anyway. Not only was I left unsatisfied, but I'm legitimately frustrated, and that's rare for me after seeing a movie. I mean, a majority of this flick really nailed what a documentary about 'real life' possession and exorcism should be, to the point where I even felt The Devil Inside had the potential to be quite a bit better than The Last Exorcism... but the final act is so disjointed and over the top that it ends up ruining the experience as a whole. To exercise such precision and control in the first 50 minutes and the film and then blow it as bad as the people behind-the-scenes did with this film? My brain can't even imagine how this could happen, yet, here we are. Sometimes I can walk away from a movie and say, 'the final act was disappointing, but I'd still recommend seeing the film for everything else it has to offer'. Unfortunately, I can't say that about The Devil Inside. All that's really left for me to say at this point is that my heart goes out to Suzan Crowley, the woman who played Isabella's mother. I feel bad for her, I really do. She's hands down the most convincing possessed person I've seen on film since Linda Blair, and it's a crime that her incredible talent had to be squandered on such a forgettable film. I just hope her participation in The Devil Inside doesn't keep her from getting work, because I wouldn't mind seeing what else she has to offer in the realm of horror.
Presented at 1080p via the AVC codec (1.78:1), The Devil Inside looks as good as the source allows it to. Being filmed on low-end HD cameras (compared to Hollywood standards, that is), we get a typical amateur HD presentation most of the time, meaning that colors appear a bit muted (which I'm sure is part of the artistic intent of the film) and shots with less light have a tendency to lose detail, clarity, and even exhibits a little noise and banding from time to time. Although black levels are often deep and inky, there are moments sprinkled throughout where they look a little murky. This is all undoubtedly due to the source though and not the result of a bad encode. That much is especially clear during the head and shoulder interview segments, where colors are allowed a natural boldness as opposed to the muted effect the rest of the film has, and these scenes really show off the amount of detail and clarity this encode is capable of. It's clear this wasn't meant to look like an expensive Hollywood production, so as long as you don't go into this movie with crazy expectations, I think you'll find this to be a satisfying experience.
Whenever I see found-footage flicks with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, I can't help but chuckle a little. Here we are, watching a movie that's supposed to provide us with what's seemingly amateurish camerawork... yet by some miracle, a boom mic and a camera mic have been able to mix themselves to a point where they're able to take full advantage of a movie theater's sound system. Is the result effective? Oh yeah, and it made me jump out of my seat more than a few times... but is a boom mic really going to provide me with an immersive experience? I'm probably the only one that finds it odd that a film's video can intentionally be made to look low-budget, yet it's perfectly acceptable to let the audio department get the works. Setting my personal negative bias for the sound design aside though, The Devil Inside pretty much does everything a horror movie should - It provides creepy ambience, impressively hits the LFE to enhance the scares, and the directionality is expertly crafted to mess with your head at times. Dialogue is always easy to understand, but there are some limitations to what the boom mic, or the mic on top of the camera can pick up at times. Still though, that's all probably more about artistic choice than issues with the mix. Anyone watching the first 50 minutes of this film are going to find some real legitimate scares based on the audio.
Oddly, there's nothing here. Come on... would it really have been that difficult or time consuming to give us something? The end of the movie directs us to a cheap website with youtube videos sprinkled throughout... so why couldn't the studio throw those videos on the disc? Or even the entire craptastic website itself? Nope, the studio would rather we go to their crappy little website instead, I suppose. After all, it makes us, the audience, feel like we're part of a real life investigation involving possession and demonic activity! Ugh.
I often find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum from most professional reviewers - If they love it, I hate it, and if they hate it, I love it. Well, not this time. Although The Devil Inside showed an enormous amount of potential within the first 45-50 minutes, the final act tanks so bad it's not even laughable from a 'so bad it's good' perspective. Nope. It's just bad. The A/V presentation on this disc is adequate as it flawlessly replicates the source, but this disc is unsurprisingly void of supplements. Skip it, skip it, skip it, skip it... skip it. Skip it. Skip. It.