In 1989, Maria Rossi (Crowley) slaughtered two priests and a nun while they were trying to exorcise her and was then packed off to an asylum in Rome. Ten years later, her grown daughter Isabella (Andrade) goes to visit her and takes along a documentarian looking to make a film about her experience...
One of the key lessons learned from the success of The Blair Witch Project, the progenitor for the current crop of found-footage horror tales, was to set the idea itching in cinemagoers’ heads that it could all be real. That what they’re watching was simply discovered before being whacked up on the screen. Sadly, while the people behind The Devil Inside clearly wanted to work on that concept, they figured the best way would be to have the film end abruptly, then cut to a website where audiences can find out more. Good try, but the result was outcry in American cinemas, with some crowds rioting in frustration at the cheap resolution. No wonder the box office flared brightly for one week — $48 million in 13 days — before dropping in the wake of poisonous word of mouth.
And unfortunately, very few of the other Blair Witch messages (i. e. make a solid movie) filtered through. The Devil Inside arrives wrapped in Vatican controversy and shadowy exorcisms, but the tantalising topic has been pulped into a thin soup of jump scares (at one point the hoary old Sudden Cat As A Shock Tactic is used, except it’s a Sudden Dog) and a grab-bag of demonic possession tropes.
Fernanda Andrade’s Isabella is a winsome, worried sort searching for the truth behind her mother’s botched exorcism. Naturally, the Church won’t tell her the whole truth and as she digs a little deeper into the process, she meets a pair of young priests (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) who have been carrying out unauthorised rites of their own. This pair of priests-as-cowboy-plumbers offers to see if they can help Maria, and, somewhat naturally, it turns out that she’s more affected than anyone imagined. What follows is the standard batch of contorting limbs, bad reactions to holy objects and endless sweary chatter/threats. All hell, quite literally, breaks loose. Well, a bit of it, at least, since Maria’s demons are able to jump from person to person, a neat trick that our collar-sporting heroes were aware of, but have very little idea how to deal with.
William Brent Bell tries his best to stay within the limitations of the you-are-there camerawork, but things get a little too unbelievable at times. Though the leads gamely play along with the idea, they descend into panto when the real horror kicks in. The low-budget aesthetic covers some sins, but this is derivative, dreary and rarely entertaining mush that won’t haunt you.
Even with The Exorcist in the world, there is still scope for a contemporary, shocking and thrilling film to be made on the subject of possession. But this is not it: some found footage should really just stay lost.