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Demon, get out! “The Devil Inside”

January 31, 2012

I know I’m a bit late to the party with The Devil Inside, since it pretty much got about twenty yards off the launch pad before it wobbled and exploded like a North Korean missile test. In this metaphor, it probably wasn’t even a spectacular explosion—that alone would be more entertainment than this movie delivers. Instead we get another dreary mock-doc about a team of exorcists in Rome. It’s like the filmmakers watched The Rite, and thought, “Well, how hard can that be?” It’s a valid question, all things considered.

Yeah, it’s another “found footage” movie. Hey, remember when those were new and fresh? No? Lemme help you remember: The Phantom Menace was in theaters and people were still frantically trying to convince themselves that it didn’t suck. Anyway, this one is about a woman named Maria Rossi, who killed three clergy members in an exorcism gone wrong back in 1989. Flashforward twenty years and her daughter, Isabella, is making a documentary about her first meeting with her mother in two decades? Why? I’m not sure. I think the movie just assumes this is normal behavior.

Well, this docu-project takes Isabella to Rome, where her mother is in a Vatican-run psychiatric hospital. How does an American citizen who has been determined to be criminally-insane get to be turned over to a foreign government? Again, the movie just assumes this is a normal thing. You know, the faux-documentary is not the best genre to demand an abundance of suspension of disbelief.

So, first Isabella visits an exorcism school, which looks just like the one from The Rite. It’s teaching standards are about as stringent. Everyone speaks English, and the students and faculty seem genuinely befuddled as to how to reconcile mental illness and demonic possession. This is especially disturbing when you consider that The Exorcist pretty much tackled this 40 years ago.

Isabella hooks up with two upstart priests who believe that the Catholic Church is too bureaucratic, and have taken it upon themselves to perform unauthorized exorcisms on people the Church felt weren’t actually possessed. Now, this should strike any rational human being as being incredibly irresponsible at best, and dangerously fanatical at worst, but, uh, no these are our heroes.

So, ultimately, they decide to perform an exorcism on Isabella’s mother, who, they believe the Church has abandoned and shunted away. It, uh, well, it doesn’t go well. I mean, first off, these guys choose to perform the ritual in a hospital room full of equipment and glass cases, and sharp instruments. Apparently, a cutlery store never occurred to them. Second, well, the movie has pretty much established that these priests aren’t the first exorcists you want at the bedside when a loved one is horking up green gunk.

So after the group gets thoroughly pwned by possessed mom, they find their hold on reality coming apart. One of them nearly drowns a baby during a baptism (he conducts the service in English—no one speaks Italian in Rome, apparently), and when the cops bust down their door, he grabs one of their guns and holds them at bay until he can shoot himself.

Next, Isabella has a seizure and is rushed to the hospital, where the surviving priest figures out that the demon has jumped into the dead priest and is now in Isabella, unfortunately, he figures it out after she has slashed a nurse’s throat. In the ensuing mayhem, they take off with Isabella and, while the documentary filmmaker drives, the surviving priest tries to perform an exorcism in the back of the car. Unfortunately, the demon jumps into the driver and he drives them into oncoming traffic. The movie ends with the URL for a web site about these events, which is basically just a site promoting the film. Yes, this movie plugs a site that tries to sell you on seeing the film you just saw.

Now, I’ve skipped a lot, because this movie is so bottomlessly stupid a Master’s thesis could be written about it. The most inexplicably thing, though, is why this film was made as a fake documentary. Typically, that format exists to either use the cinematic limitations to make something scary that’s not inherently scary (the woods scenes in Blair Witch that made distant sounds and clumps of rocks spine-tingling) and/or to present a story outside of the traditional three-act format. But we know an exorcism can be scary when presented straight, since The Exorcist continues to be one of the scariest movies ever made. On top of that, it plays out very much like a standard thriller, with dramatic reveals, and personal secrets being revealed. The faux-documentary format brings nothing to the story.

But beyond that, not a scene goes by without something  hopelessly ridiculous happening. Such as:

* Isabella is told that most of the students at the exorcism school aren’t priests or nuns, but “just regular people.” Wait, what? So the Catholic Church just holds exorcism classes the way the Red Cross teaches CPR?

* One of the priests joined the priesthood just so he could become an exorcist. Um…isn’t that a bit like becoming a cop in the hopes that someday you get trapped in a skyscraper that’s been taken over by terrorists?

* The actress playing possessed mom employs the crazy-eyes and vamps like she’s auditioned for the role of Norma Desmond in a community theater production of Sunset Boulevard.

* According to the priests, speaking with different accents is the same as speaking in tongues, which means the mom is possessed. WTF? No…no, none of that makes sense! By that logic most of Hollywood is possessed by demons (Rick Santorum is nodding vigorously at this point).

* “Her pupils aren’t dilated anymore…the demon is gone!” What?!? Really? And yet, nobody ever questions whether these priests are just making this shit up as they go along.

* One of the priests says he has “real problems” with the Church as an institution because of the way they handle demonic possession. Yes, that’s much worse than the massive, global, child-molestation scandals that they systemically covered up for the past half-century, at least.

* Possessed mom: “I will tear out your tongue and use it to skull-fuck the baby-killer!” Apparently, the demon is a big fan of the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween.

* So, the demon can leap from body to body. Why did it stay cooped up in possessed mom’s body for twenty years? Didn’t it get bored?

* The documentarian drops out of the film for huge sections, and, in one scene, even has to remind the audience who he is and why he is there.

* No one in the hospital thinks anything is weird about a dude wielding a video camera when they bring Isabella to the ER. They even directly address it when apprizing us of her condition.

* You know, there’s actually a good reason the Church downplays the rite of exorcism, since dumbasses have actually killed people performing them.

Geez, what a lousy movie. Of course you probably know that by now. But still…wow…

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