Film

What Posessed These People?

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By Blair Jackson
From the opening scene — a pathetic re-enactment of a supposedly “real” 911 call — “The Devil Inside” flops in a big way. Under the pretenses of being filmed as a documentary, this movie lacks both the plot and cinematography of the horror films from which it has drawn inspiration.

Though used before 1999, the handheld camera technique exploded onto the horror scene with “The Blair Witch Project.” Presented as a recovered documentary, the shaky camera, night-vision shots and a disorienting setting, “The Blair Witch Project” came together to create a terrifying cinematic experience. With a pinch of good acting — who doesn’t remember the snot drizzle of terror? — it became a classic horror film.

The shaky cam made another appearance almost 10 years later in “Cloverfield,” which offered audiences a mysterious, action-laden plot unfolding around a boy-girl story. Presently, the “Paranormal Activity” saga is making a boatload of cash on the simple cinematography and increasingly kooky plot following the haunting and demonic possession of an ordinary Jane.

The shaky cam technique was just one of many misses in “The Devil Inside” because it failed to establish a realistic setting. The purpose of this technique in horror films is to lure the audience into a familiar, everyday setting — a camping trip, a New Year’s Eve party or your home — only to drop a paranormal bomb on your sense of reality.

Why would a woman bring a camera along to document the possession and exorcism of her mother who killed three people? Far-fetched, I know, and it gets increasingly convoluted. I am going to go ahead and give you a spoiler alert, although nothing could actually spoil this already rotten movie.

About 20 years after her mother kills three people during an exorcism, the main character, Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), goes on a quest to reunite with her mother, who was mysteriously taken to Rome and placed in a psychiatric facility.
The reasoning behind her desire to meet her mother again is skimmed over, and the film ultimately presents an oversimplified I-just-need-to-know-and-I-need-to-know-now explanation, instead of delving into the psychological ramifications of either being the daughter of a woman who suffers from severe mental illness or demonic possession.

It turns out the Catholic Church has a school for exorcism, so Isabella and her cameraman crash the class, which is located somewhere in the Vatican City, and viewers are introduced to the two other supporting characters and arguments surrounding the legitimacy of possession.

When Isabella meets her insane mother, Maria Rossi (played by Suzan Crowley), the elder Rossi displays a variety of typical possessed routines such as talking in different accents, cutting upside down crosses into her skin and screaming like a banshee. At times, Crowley’s acting borders on hilarious, but even then doesn’t quite enter the realm of bad, which makes it painfully mediocre to watch.

Isabella recruits two of the priests she met at Exorcism 101, Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), to help her evaluate her mother. It is then revealed that these two renegades are performing exorcisms as a side project, aiding those rejected by the Catholic Church who have fallen through “cracks in the system.” Here lies the original hook of the story: These are unauthorized exorcisms, done outside of the Catholic Church’s jurisdiction in a kind of back-alley, vigilante undertaking.

Filmmaker Michael and Isabella tag along for an exorcism. (Y’know, just to make sure it’s legit.) I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but you can expect contortion, crawling up the walls, blood spatters and vaginal bleeding — nothing new to anyone who has watched “The Exorcist” or “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” If you haven’t seen these movies, by the way, go rent both of them instead of watching “The Devil Inside.”

The priests’ rejection and disapproval of the Catholic Church is possibly the most unrealistic aspect of the film. The idea that Catholic priests would record exorcisms not only in blatant contradiction to the Church but also as a means of protest, serves only as a plot device to make sense of the idea that audiences are witnessing an actual exorcism.

Jason Miller’s performance as Father Karras in “The Exorcist” is a balanced, intriguing portrayal of a man of God faced with human failings and doubt. “The Exorcist” captures the heat of that battle, while “The Devil Inside” tunes in after the battle has been lost.

Who lost the battle is up for debate because the movie ends as a cliffhanger in one of the most unresolved scenes in movie history.

I’m guessing the devil wins because David shoots himself, Isabella cuts someone’s throat, and Michael is enchanted (by Isabella’s command) to commit suicide while driving Isabella and Ben to a priest’s house.

Ha, I ruined it!
Now you don’t have to waste your money to go see it.
But I don’t feel bad, considering moviegoers across the nation are asking themselves, “Really? That’s it?” at the end of each showing of “The Devil Inside.”
Yes, please. Let that be it.
No sequel is needed. In fact, what possessed these people to make this movie in the first place?

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