Releasing Studio: Paramount/Insurge
MPAA Rating: R
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p High Definition; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: William Brent Bill
Starring Cast: Pixie Le Knot, Fernanda Andrade, Ionut Grama, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth
THIS IS THE FILM THE VATICAN DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE.
This has really got to stop already. I’m referring to the tidal wave of these so-called “ found footage” films that are the unfortunate results of the same-named filming technique that has taken a strangle-hold on amateur young directors ever since the launch of Blair Witch Project. The premise is based on filling marketing campaigns and trailers with screaming rhetoric that suggests the events being seen in the films are real, based on “found footage” and introduction/opening sequences that thank various police departments, religious organizations, family members, etc. for their participation in the “making” of the films, all for overall effect and the purpose of getting the viewer to believe all this hogwash actually took place. Perhaps the best known – and most effective – example of this is Paramount’s own Paranormal Activity franchise, which went from one pretty creepy, somewhat effective haunted house/ghost story picture to a three-filmed franchise that ridiculously and unnecessarily added prequel stories and varied off-canter emotional baggage to the mix. But make no mistake – the Paranormal Activity franchise was a cash cow for Paramount, especially on home video formats, and between these titles and the comic film adaptations they have had their names on as of late (Iron Man and its sequel, Captain America, Thor and now The Avengers), the studio appears to be doing as well as a bunch of self-centered, egotistical CEO-style windbags could ever do.
William Brent Bill’s The Devil Inside appears to be simply cashing in on the latest rebirth craze of the “occult/possession” horror subgenre sparked by films such as The Rite and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, both of which were allegedly “based on true cases;” in The Rite, the story revolved around a book that told the tale of a skeptical newly ordained priest that gets sent to the Vatican to take classes in exorcism only to participate in one when he must free his own mentoring priest (played by Anthony Hopkins in the film) from the clutches of the Devil at the end (or, in this case, the clutches of a demon named “Baal”). In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the story suggested that the “real Emily Rose” – so-called facts that didn’t hold up when you did some research on all this, or watched the DVD’s special features – was in fact a young college girl that somehow becomes possessed by evil whether while at college or even years before that due to her “being open to it;” the whole thing gets messy when a legal backstory develops in which lawyers are called in to defend the priest who treated Emily (played by Tom Wilkinson; Emily was played by Jennifer Carpenter in the film) who is accused of mistreatment of the girl during the so-called exorcisms to the point it lead to her death. However, Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t shot in the unsteady, handheld camera perspective that Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside and even Cloverfield were – many film critics credit Cloverfield as the film that actually started this craze of the “camcorder” or “phone cam” perspective, and in many ways, that theory has some merit. You can sense Cloverfield’s influence all over the shaky shots in Devil Inside, indeed; however, it’s the underlying fact that films like these (Paranormal Activity, Devil Inside) are simply downright lying when they claim the plots are “based on true events” that make them trashy and unsuitable for being taken seriously. I have to admit, when I first saw the original Paranormal Activity, I was intrigued and kind of hooked when the opening frame proclaimed “Paramount Pictures would like to thank the San Diego Police Department and the families of…”; I mean, truly, it seemed like what you were about to watch was real and contained “real found footage” of at least some sort. When I later discovered, after much research for doing reviews on the title, that the whole thing was simply hogwash to truly kick off this new, now-fully-recognized “found footage” horror film subgenre and filming style, I was disappointed to say the least.
And so it goes with The Devil Inside, the latest example of this that, as I mentioned, seems to be capitalizing on the public’s newly refound fascination with the Devil, demonic possession, camera perspective filmmaking and amateurish production values from start to finish. Admittingly, as a person interested in the occult/possession horror film subgenre (I’m a big fan of projects like The Exorcist and Amityville II: The Possession), the trailers for Devil Inside looked intriguing to me. I was, of course, expecting nothing better than the downright horse dung that was The Last Exorcism, which was the last attempt by Hollywood to make one of these so-called “live-at-the-filming-of-a-documentary-style-picture” films that was so pathetically stupid and un-entertaining that I almost turned it off while watching it. However, Devil Inside turned out to be a little more watchable than that turd after I viewed it the evening it came out (this past Tuesday, a day before my birthday) on Blu-ray. The premise, again, is just plain far-fetched and made even more ridiculous and insulting to human intelligence when you watch the end sequence that’s followed by a message that suggests “following this case” on a so-called “real” website set up (www.therossifiles.com) – when you go to that site, it’s merely screen shots from the film made to look like “real case files” from the so-called possession case of one “Maria Rossi” and her daughter, Isabella. Now that’s what I call a cheap and lowdown shot at fooling the public.
Okay, so the premise of The Devil Inside –well, supposedly there was a “real” case of a whacko woman named Maria Rossi who, at some point in 1989, called 911 and confessed to killing three people in her Connecticut home. When investigators got there, they found, in the basement, the battered and bloodied bodies of what appeared to be nuns and priests absolutely bludgeoned by Miss Rossi, all of them still holding crucifixes and religious items. As the story unfolds, it’s suggested to us that Maria was involved in a mass exorcism of sorts, in which these members of her church group were attempting to drive out evil spirits that had taken control of the woman – apparently, we learn during the flashback sequences in the film when her daughter Isabella narrates, that something was wrong with Maria almost all of Isabella’s childhood, so the possessing demons had control of her early on. In the film, Maria is played by Suzan Crowley, while daughter Isabella is played by Fernanda Andrade. The opening sequence of the film – after a pre-opening title sequence proclaims “the Vatican had no involvement in the making of it” for sheer ineffective effect, LOL – depicts faked “newsreel” footage in which cops descend upon the Rossi house and discover the dead bodies of the church group members after Maria’s creepy 911 call in which she confesses. As Maria is carted off in the back of a squad car to her new prison haunts, we meet daughter Isabella, who is now making a documentary film – as we the viewers are supposed to be witnessing first hand in the perspective The Devil Inside is shot in – with so-called “filmmaker” Michael (played by Ionut Grama) to discover exactly what happened to and is wrong with her own mother, who has now been shipped off to an insane asylum/hospital in Italy outside the Vatican, inexplicably. Incredibly, what saves this film from being a downright horrible example of amateur filmmaking and, quite frankly, a steaming heap of warm horse manure – which it could have easily been in a New York minute – are some standout “performances” from the likes of Crowley and some others, with Crowley in particular playing the zoned-out mental patient/possessed loon in such a creepy, unsettling fashion, you really do get the feeling Lucifer is deep inside her. There’s also an uber-creepy sequence involving Pixie Le Knot who portrays a possessed girl that Isabella and two priests go to see in Italy, in which Le Knot contorts and twists her body in such an unsettling, unnerving way it makes Linda Blair’s performance look like chopped liver.
Okay, so now we, the viewers, are caught behind the camera and are taken on this “documentary filmmaking” ride thanks to Isabella’s Michael (the so-called “documentary filmmaker”) and the perspective for the rest of The Devil Inside is pretty much from behind Michael’s camera – a la Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity films. Isabella travels to Italy where she sits in on an exorcism and demonic possession course (as in The Rite) outside the Vatican, though her real intentions are to visit her sick mother, now locked away in a specialized nuthouse for the criminally insane. She meets “priests” Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and David Keane (Evan Helmuth) also attending the class, and forms a bit of a bond with them – Rawlings and Keane are not your everyday clergymen, however; Rawlings holds a medical degree of some kind and Keane prides himself of being some kind of “rogue exorcist” in which the two of them attempt to help people supposedly possessed and who cannot turn to the Catholic Church. As they take on their various cases, as “exorcists for hire” so to speak, Rawlings straps the patients to all kinds of medical equipment to monitor their pupil dilation, heart rate, respiration, etc. while Keane takes the lead exorcism duties, barking out anti-satanic rhetoric in a thick British accent to confront and defeat the demons. I thought the performances by Quarterman and Helmuth here were a bit cheesy and over the top, what with them attempting to play the roles so authentically to make the audience think these were real priests in Rome it was almost nauseating; at any rate, Isabella tells Ben and David about her mother and why she has come to Rome, believing her to be possessed and in need of some kind of religious help. The two priests suggest to her that she needs to witness an actual exorcism taking place by their own hands – and that only this will allow her to distinguish the difference between mental illness and true demonic possession (a theme which runs rampant throughout the entire occult horror film subgenre).
Isabella and Michael travel with Ben and David to visit a young girl (why is it always a young girl that gets taken over by Satan in every horror flick and who eventually tells the exorcising priests to “do things” with their tongues, mouths and private parts to them? Is the Devil that lonely?) supposedly possessed for some time, with Michael capturing it all on his camera. In a scene that felt like a direct rip-off of The Rite, the mother of the girl informs the exorcists that they had to move her to the basement (which seemed like a remote torture chamber to be honest) because her condition “grew worse.” Once down in the basement and with their equipment set up, the clergymen discover exactly what that meant – they find the girl (Pixie Le Knot) contorted into a pretzel-like formation under the sheets on a cot-like bed in the middle of this cold, damp, dark basement, obviously in some kind of trance and under some kind of influence. Ben injects her with a muscle relaxer to bring her out of her contorted stupor, and the exorcism begins – every filthy name in the book is thrown at the two exorcists as the demon inside the girl makes its presence known, thrashing her body around on the bed, causing mass hemorrhaging from her genitals, sending her blood pressure through the roof and even managing to call Isabella by her name as she stands there in a state of absolute shock and horror watching the exorcism. The sequence was one of the creepier ones of the film.
Ben and David agree to watch Michael’s recorded session between Isabella and her mother when Isabella goes to visit her in the mental hospital, and the results are downright frightening – Maria Rossi is now in a monitored cell, restrained most of the time due to her violent outbursts, mainly when confronted with religious symbolism, and Isabella desperately tries to make her understand that she’s her mother. The woman’s obvious hallucinatory state is frightening to witness, until finally Maria shows Isabella her inverted crosses that have been scratched into her arm, as well as the inverted cross cut into her inner bottom lip (seen on some promotional material still shots for the film), suggesting something has definitely taken her over of the anti-religious kind. Also in her meeting with her possessed mother, Isabella hears her say she shouldn’t have killed her baby (a reference to an aborted pregnancy Isabella had which Maria couldn’t have possibly known about because they were separated for so long when Maria was arrested and committed) and hisses some other inhuman lines and noises at her daughter, weirding her out and causing her and filmmaker Michael to run from the hospital room after Maria goes into a possessed fit. Indeed, Ben and David feel investigating Maria’s case is worthy of their time, and they begin discussing what would be involved.
In what was a ridiculous notion in the film, the doctors at the asylum Maria is in agree for the two exorcists to come in, tie Maria down, examine her for possession signs and even counteract the medicines they’re giving her so they can confront the entity inside her without the calming drugs. With Michael filming it all and Isabella witnessing it, the exorcists use their techniques to coax a demonic presence out of Maria, while Ben monitors her medical functions, and just when they think – based primarily on her pupil dilation behavior – she may in fact not be under a demonic influence, all hell breaks loose in the room. David takes the lead in the exorcism ritual as the force within Maria shows itself via creepy eyes and guttural voices and growls, eventually tossing David across the room with unearthly strength and seething varying threatening and vulgar rhetoric at all of them. At one point, something goes wrong – there’s a brief blackout from Michael’s camera that’s taping it all, and it appears all involved in the exorcism and who were in the room have somehow been affected.
The Devil Inside’s plot kind of goes downhill from there – while the Pixie Le Knot and Suzan Crowley exorcism sequences were plenty powerful and downright unnerving, the following themes suggesting the multitude of demons possessing Maria have been able to jump from body to body now and have begun taking over Ben and even Isabella at one point began to feel gimmicky and cheap, reminding me of horrible films like Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday or other “entity quickly jumps from body-to-body” horror flicks. The whole thing just spirals out of control, going from Ben’s eyes rolling to the back of his head, obviously showing signs of possession after nearly drowning a baby to death in a baptism witnessed and filmed by Michael, to him blowing his own brains out in front of the cops to Isabella breaking into a seizure and eventually contorting into a pretzel as well, suggesting she was next to become possessed, to a final frame involving David attempting to exorcise her in the back of a car while Michael desperately tries to drive them to get assistance from the church and the entity inside Isabella eventually jumping into Michael forcing him to crash the car head-on into oncoming traffic…the second half of The Devil Inside felt completely rushed and tacked-on, borrowing elements from the conclusions of Paranormal Activity and other films in which the filmmakers want you to wonder “what happened” and what “could have happened” if an alternate ending were added – in the case of the first Paranormal Activity, there was indeed an alternate ending and in the case of The Devil Inside, there is a mention at the end of its brisk 89 minute or so running time that “the events surrounding the Rossi case remain unsolved” and that “more information” could be obtained by visiting “TheRossiFiles.com.” As I mentioned, when you go to that site, it’s merely a collection of clips from the film with the actors of this film – not real case file elements – that are on display to click on and explore; I mean, what? In a way, it kind of reminded me of the conclusion to The Fourth Kind, which left us wondering if any of these things did take place, didn’t take place, were made up for the film, were based on any kind of truth, yadda yadda yadda…
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Curiously, there seems to be some kind of stigma surrounding the home video release of The Devil Inside, with many online sources claiming the title is a “Best Buy only exclusive” of some kind, not readily available if at all anywhere else – for what it’s worth, I did some picking around online and found that there really was no information to be found regarding the Blu-ray’s technical specs or release information; it’s like the title has been shrouded in mystery. I was able to nab a copy at my local Blockbuster, and in terms of the video transfer, Paramount’s 1080p presentation here didn’t really stand out in any way given the subject matter – that is, a “documentary-style” faked perspective, which lends itself to softness, some phony “camera noise” effects and an overall somewhat washed-out look. When “Michael”’s camera captures outdoor sets such as the grass around the Vatican scenes or the Italian streets they’re walking down or café’s they’re drinking in, the transfer showed good detail and stability. But this was far from what one would call a go-to disc in terms of showing off a good high-def display.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track didn’t wow me in any particular area, save for one – there’s a moment in the opening sequence of The Devil Inside in which the cops are searching Maria Rossi’s house for the victims she has claimed and a brief loud startling noise came bursting from the left surround channel – the effect made me and my wife jump out of our seats in the two times we watched the film in the consecutive days we had it, thinking something really did fall upstairs in our own house, or the roof was caving in or something…the effect was startlingly realistic. Beyond that, this was a fairly ho-hum Master Audio mix, with pretty low dialogue delivery in the center channel position – requiring me to goose up the master volume more than I’m used to – and a lack of enveloping surround presence, save for some rare instances when birds flew overhead onscreen and this was accompanied by surround channel activity or chaotic moments when one of the characters were “possessed” by whatever was inside Maria Rossi, and the boomy, thrashing audio cues were spread through the soundstage. Overall, the track didn’t wow me.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
I don’t really know what to make of this one or what else I can say about even the genre it belongs to; I mean, was there a real “Maria Rossi”? Did she really call 911 that fateful night in 1989 to report the murders she committed under the influence of some “demonic presence”? What was the deal with the filmmakers claiming “more information about this case could be found by visiting that website” and yet there’s no “true” information there? Was that just a marketing gimmick by Paramount? It seems this won’t be the end of these so-called “found footage” style motion pictures, as they’re apparently all the rage amongst the young texting/sexting/bullying-to-death generation now, but one has to wonder if perhaps cases like The Fourth Kind depicted actually have some truth lodged in them – in the matter of The Devil Inside, this reviewer definitely smelled a barn full of baking-in-the-sun animal solid waste product…but it was much better than The Last Exorcism and wasn’t a complete disaster in my opinion. A buy? I don’t know; but many of the “exorcism” scenes were pretty effective and frightening, even if they never took place in real life at all, and that made for an entertaining watch for me – twice, even.
Let’s discuss The Devil Inside if you have seen it!