09 January 2012

YOUR MOTHER SUCKS COCKS IN HELL

If the stupid people are right and 2012 ends up being the last year of human existence, it could hardly have gotten off to a more appropriate start that The Devil Inside, which suggests at least this much: the race for Worst Film of the Year is going to be extremely competitive.

Here is how broken down to its awful little toes the film is: I can't even describe the goddamn scenario without having to guess what the filmmakers were attempting to do before they failed. Plotwise, we have here a young woman named Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), whose mother, Maria (Suzan Crowley), was committed to a mental hospital in Rome in 1989, after killing two priests and a nun under extremely bizarre circumstances. Here in 2009, Isabella has just learned from her father that what actually happened was a failed exorcism, and that the Catholic Church is officially staying as far the fuck away from the Rossi affair as it can manage. There is, naturally, only one natural reaction to all of this, which is to make a documentary film about all of this. Or anyway, to hire a snotty, bearded young filmmaker, Michael (Ionut Grama), to make a documentary for her.

The Devil Inside takes the form of the project that Isabella and Michael end up creating in the States and in Vatican City itself, although "takes the form" is just about the worst possible phrase I could have used to describe the picture shat out by director William Brent Bell and his co-writer, Matthew Peterman, for they don't seem to understand what exactly form even is in this medium that they have chosen for their career. Superficially, The Devil Inside is yet another "found footage" picture after the fashion of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project or [REC] or Paranormal Activity. Holy shit, especially Paranormal Activity - I presume that whether Bell and Peterman approached Paramount's new Insurge label, or whether Insurge farmed it out to them, the first words in the meeting were "Paranormal Activity with an exorcism". Which has already been done at least twice to my certain knowledge: 2010's wide-release The Last Exorcism, and the 2008 microbudget Chronicles of an Exorcism. But to its credit, The Devil Inside is probably only ripping off one of these.

Thing is, it's absolutely not a found footage picture, but an actual documentary (of course, it's not a documentary at all, but you get my meaning), with title cards identifying important people and editing being used in very conscious ways to provide storytelling. Except that sometimes it forgets to be a documentary and goes back to being found footage. Which is our first sign that Bell didn't give a fuck, or maybe just is flailing and incompetent. Or perhaps our second sign, if we paid enough attention to note that depending on which line of dialogue you're going to favor, Isabella is either 25, 26, or 28-years-old. Which is a nitpick, but when a film is trying to pass for reality - something that both fake documentaries and fake found footage pictures theoretically do - it's really damn important to make sure that the reality is coherent, and not ribboned with easily-identified continuity farts like that one. Or the one where we meet David (Evan Helmuth) and Ben (Simon Quarterman) when Isabella and Michael sit in on exorcism class in Rome, and that same night we discover that they are rogue freelance exorcists who have to be careful not to let the Church find out what they're doing. Which would theoretically include calling attention to themselves by attending exorcism class and loudly disagreeing with the teacher's conclusions. Or, y'know, allowing themselves to be filmed by a documentarian while they're busy breaking Church law.

That latter point actually becomes a major part of the plot when Isabella tries to convince the pair to help save Maria from the demons possessing her, and David grows concerned that this film might end up endangering their standing with the Vatican, and that would be a valid concern he hadn't already blithely allowed the filmmakers to tag along on one of their illegal exorcisms.

OH MY GOD FUCK THIS MOVIE. Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest.

Alright, so The Devil Inside fails to establish a remotely credible reality, and it can't decide if it wants to be a documentary or not, but by God, Bell does ride that fake documentary conceit as hard as he possibly can, though if this was a documentary, it would be an uncommonly embarrassing and amateurish one, with Isabella and Michael playing to the camera like the world's worst reality TV stars. Regardless, the film is so invested in playing at being a documentary that it even includes an opening thirty minutes that only make sense in the context of a documentary, and certainly not that of a fictional film with a script and an audience waiting to see a goddamn possession. Absolutely nothing of what happens in the opening third could possibly be described as "interesting" if there film were anything other than an actual for-real documentary about exorcisms - which it is not, despite the filmmaker's brave attempt to suggest otherwise, with their interviews and opening title card reading “The Vatican did not endorse this film nor aid in its completion” and all, and with these two postulates being the case, it follows that the opening third of The Devil Inside is itself not interesting. "Let's go to fake exorcism school!" sing Isabella and Michael. "Let's not do anything at all except present this material as though we're informing the viewer about this interesting concept they may not know much about, and still don't because this whole movie is made-up!"

Finally we meet Maria Rossi, and absolutely the only part of the movie that has any life in it whatsoever is the scene where she twitches uncomfortably and shows off her self-inflicted scars and freaks out Isabella, though even here the film completely sucks - the attentive viewer, and not even that attentive, really just the viewer who is awake, will note that sometimes Michael is standing in places where he is then immediately not standing when we cut to the hospital's security footage, and given the way things play out, plus the Vatican neither endorsing nor aiding, how the hell did anybody get hold of that footage in the place? But anyway, Crowley is still the best thing about the movie and the only actor who is worth a damn.

The rest of it is all Isabella and Michael wondering if they're uninteresting people, and shallow people for being so concerned with their movie that they lose track of suffering or some such. Yes, they are. Also, Helmuth oversells his character way too much, and plays too much to the unsurprising twist ending much too early, before it even makes sense to do it, or maybe it's that the twist is so unsurprising that I was anticipating it. Anyway, these four bland, overacted and underwritten characters putter about Rome having grim conversations that would totally call the authority of the Vatican into question if the evidence wasn't all in a fictional movie, but I think we're not supposed to notice it, or care. Along this, there are virtually no devils inside things, and when they are there, it's like every other exorcism movie ever made, except cheaper. Eventually the whole thing stops at a point that could be called an ending if you have only a theoretical understanding of storytelling, though at least it doesn't actually offer a sequel hook. I'm sure that won't stop them from making The Devil Further Inside, at which point I suppose whoever replaces Bell will just film characters hitting the camera with hammers, for that is the only way that one could violate the essential nature of cinema more thoroughly than it has been done here.

1/10

6 comments:

RickR said...

Oh how I love it when you take out the trash, Tim!

One other note about credibility- did it strike you as odd (if you still cared by the time this plot point was delivered) that the mother was somehow magically extradited to a mental hospital in Rome when the crime was committed in Connecticut? (I haven't seen the movie myself, just mentioning what I've read elsewhere. While the movie sounds like bottom-of-the-barrel-even-for-January dreck, a story with a plot point that stupid sounds almost....charming.)

Tim said...

That's actually the first reason we are given to understand that Things Are Not Right. Basically, even though the Church denies that there was ever a possession, it's shifty that they have taken such pains to spirit her away.

I stopped caring right around the time that the film made it clear that "The Vatican", as depicted here, was essentially a James Bond-style criminal conspiracy & therefore capable of such things as stealing a woman from the US.

MrRoivas said...

Having the Catholic Church be a criminal conspiracy is probably the most plausible notion of this film, given the events of the last decade and a half.

Riley Redgate said...

I live for when you hate films. Is that sadistic?

Tim said...

MrRoivas- A fair point.

Riley- If that's sadistic, it's no worse than the masochism of the fact that I, too, live for when I hate films.

javi75 said...

LOL (at the previous comment)