Review: “The Devil Inside”

Every movie about demonic possession invariably gets compared to “The Exorcist”, perhaps unfairly so but not without reason. William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty crafted a white-knuckle exercise in terror that, almost 40 years later, still leaves audiences with nightmares and theater managers with urine-soaked seats. The latest challenger to the throne, “The Devil Inside”, is a non-starter that could have been at least a good B-grade horror flick if it had been made with little more conviction.

The movie opens, with a 911 recording and video footage from 1989, both from an incident in Connecticut in which suburban mom Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) killed three clergy during an exorcism. Oddly, instead of being imprisoned, she’s sent to the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane, in Rome.

Flash forward 20 years later. Maria’s daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Adrade), understandably has some questions on her mind. She and her filmmaker friend Michael (Ionut Grama) make a trip to the asylum to determine whether her mother insane or just demon possessed. There investigation puts them in touch with idealist young priests David (Evan Helmuth) and Ben (Simon Quartermain), both of whom are ordained exorcists who chafe at the Vatican’s seemingly passive attitude towards exorcisms and perform the ritual without sanction on parishioners the church turns away.

The two priests quickly diagnose Maria as having a case of infernal infection and, after testing Isabella and Michael’s mettle by allowing them to witness firsthand the exorcism of a young woman, proceed to perform the rites on Maria. After that, (ahem) all hell breaks loose.

Well, sort of. The movie is shot in the same faux-documentary style that distracted viewers from exactly how bad “The Blair Witch Project” was. It’s a technique that was reactivated and then quickly sucked dry in recent years by “Paranormal Activity” and its imitators, but continues to draw uninspired filmmakers and budget-minded studios looking for quick profits on something fast and cheap.

Unfortunately for director William Brent Bell, it’s played out at this point, and his attempt to shoehorn a standard plot into such a constricted format with actors who don’t seem to grasp cinema verite results in an unconvincing mess. The movie would have been better served if it had been made as a standard low-budget horror flick.

Worse, “The Devil Inside” gets off to a fairly good start, changes course slightly in a promising, and then slams to halt — almost literally. It’s one thing for a movie to leave us with loose ends and unresolved details, it’s another to settle for a lazy and infuriatingly abrupt ending. One is left wondering what ran out first: the money or the creativity. It plays like a crude joke on the part of the director, and audiences at the screening attended by this critic were vocal about their displeasure.

In the end, “The Devil Inside” only manages to prove that shaky cameras, a teenage contortionist, and exotic European locale are no substitute for Linda Blair and a gallon of pea soup.