Director: William Brent Bell
Cast: Fernanda Andadre, Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth
Running time: 83 minutes
Synopsis: A young woman travels to Italy to investigate what caused her mother to murder three members of her church. While there, she becomes wound up in a series of unauthorised exorcisms, with devastating results…
Never have I been to a film screening that has so immersed me in the experience as that of THE DEVIL INSIDE. The film’s promoters put on quite a show for its release, inviting journalists and members of the public to a special screening of the supernatural horror at the Round Chapel in Hackney.
Complete with nuns, ghostly lighting and a somewhat ominous all-male choir singing in the upper balconies, the stage was set for a full-on horror experience. After a quick video interview on the way in, I surrendered my contact details and signed my permission to be filmed during the ‘show’. Now with considerably heightened expectations, I took my seat. What a shame, then, that the film completely failed to live up to its grandiose build-up.
THE DEVIL INSIDE is something of a bastard child of THE EXORCIST; dealing with similar themes, the film portrays the journey of a young woman, Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), who attempts to investigate what drove her mother to murder three members of her church 20 years ago. We open in 1989, with a transcript of Isabella’s mother, Maria (Suzan Crowley), calling the police to admit to the murders. From there, we’re shown a series of recordings depicting the investigation by police officers of the crime scene.
From the off, THE DEVIL INSIDE isn’t afraid to show us the gory details. Director William Brent Bell makes no attempt to conceal in any way the bloody carcasses of Maria Rossi’s murder victims, as the police trawl the scene, a monotonous commentary of the corpses droning overhead. It’s not exactly subtle, though as we’ll come to find, subtlety isn’t really THE DEVIL INSIDE’s cup of tea.
Fast forward to 2009, and Isabella is travelling to Italy to visit her mother at the Centrino Mental Hospital. Herein comes the most interesting aspect of THE DEVIL INSIDE – the film is shot as if it were a fly-on-the-wall documentary, and as such the beginning of the film splices together handheld footage and interviews with experts on exorcism, perhaps in order to give the effect that this might one day end up on the Discovery channel.
Sadly, this style of filming quickly deteriorates into a blatant attempt to pass off ‘found footage’ as something new and exciting, as the interviews with experts swiftly disappear. The ‘fly-on-the-wall’ aspect then becomes irritating after about fifteen minutes, so we’re left for the rest of the 83 minute runtime wondering whether modern horror films will ever realise the true classics managed perfectly well with traditional camera techniques (sadly, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be happening anytime in the near future).
The film seems to reflect its style from here on out, as its dull plot is plodded through with a vapid, lifeless monotony by the unlikeable Isabella. Her cohorts in Italy – the priests whom she attempts to gain the aid of, to rid her mother of the supposed demons that caused her to commit the atrocities of 1989 – are, at least, a tad better; Joseph Gordon-Levitt lookalike Simon Quarterman as Father Ben Rawlings is most impressive of the lot, but even he can’t save the dreadful plot, abysmal direction and one of the most predictable climaxes since every Tom and Jerry cartoon ever. It’s safe to say I’ve seen scarier things on the streets of London at night than in that Hackney chapel.
Elsewhere, we have Ionut Grama as Michael Schaefer, the documentary maker who’s agreed to film Isabella’s journey, though as he spends most of his time behind the camera we [thankfully] don’t get to see much of him. There’s another priest, Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth), who’s almost as capable as Quarterman and the film’s only other highlight. This is only Bell’s third outing as director, and his second horror film. It’s also his first film in six years, and while he has another horror in the works for 2013, again with THE DEVIL INSIDE co-writer Matthew Peterman, with any luck it might never see the light of day (based on the critical and box office reception of THE DEVIL INSIDE, which should, if there’s any justice, be just as abysmal as the film itself).
It’s no wonder THE DEVIL INSIDE is prefaced with two statements informing the audience that no, the Vatican did not endorse this film (much in the same way that I assume every Bond film is prefaced with a message that MI6 didn’t endorse those). Not because of its satanic themes, nor its depiction of characters going against the church to perform these exorcisms. No, it’s probably because the Pope would be forced into exile for ever being associated with what can only be labelled one of the worst modern horror films this reviewer has ever had the misfortune to see.
THE DEVIL INSIDE is in cinemas now.