The Devil Inside is a strange movie that meanders more than follows a directional story arc, which isn’t a huge surprise given that it’s the latest in a long series of found footage pseudo-documentaries. The impetus behind using shaky camerawork and spliced first person interviews is to create something unpredictable that feels very much in the moment. The Devil Inside accomplishes that goal, but in doing so, also leaves the audience unable to grasp larger meanings and unable to anticipate where the action might be headed.
There’s a reason most horror movies establish a clear premise not long into their run times. Directional momentum allows for the building of suspense, which makes the shocking moments that much more terrifying. The Devil Inside zigs and zags so many times at such a frenetic pace that it leaves the audience only enough time to react. That makes for an exciting movie but also one that feels a bit pointless and contrived at the end. Viewers need breaks in the action to understand and then re-evaluate. Without those pauses, it’s just a carnival ride. As carnival rides go though, I’ve been on far worse.
When Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) was a little girl, her mother (Suzan Crowley) murdered three people. The two priests and the nun were at her house to perform an exorcism. They wound up dead, and she wound up committed to a Catholic mental institution in Italy. Now, decades later, her daughter wants to understand why it happened and to do so, she must meet with the mother she hasn’t seen in years. To help document the experience, she brings along a cameraman (Ionut Grama) and attends a class on exorcism. There she meets the two men who set the rambling plot in motion.
They’re Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), two Catholic priests who secretly perform exorcisms on patients they think the Church has misdiagnosed as suffering from mental illnesses. The pair agree to examine Isabella’s mother and almost immediately conclude she’s possessed by four demons. The quadrangle of entities are unlike anything the two good-natured men have ever faced before, and it’s not long before they realize the Satanic lieutenants can jump from person-to-person, unleashing a fast-moving game of Guess Who that’s high on danger and low on coherence.
Admittedly, this hot potato possession is kind of fascinating to watch, but it’s also extremely difficult to follow. By the end, Isabella’s mother is on the back burner and the audience is left trying to verify with their neighbors whether it was Mrs. Peacock or Colonel Mustard who used the knife in the operating room, if it even matters. I’d like to say there’s a point, but after it all in concludes so far from the original destination, it’s hard to assign value. That’s the downside of these found footage pseudo-documentaries. They’re like highlight films featuring characters you vaguely know.
Maybe if the highlights were a bit more graphic, it would make up for the film’s shortcomings in the way of personalities, but because The Devil Inside is so beholden to the found footage game, viewers often miss the bloodiest parts. We’re just vaguely aware something awful has happened somewhere just off camera. Only getting glimpses definitely makes it feel more authentic, but it also minimizes the gravity of the moment. Since there are so many moments in the film that are full of enough gravity to radically shift the plot, that’s a big problem.
Whether The Devil Inside ever overcomes that problem is more a matter of taste than fact. It’s not good. It’s not awful. It’s somewhere in the middle, which based on your own personal like of horror flicks, might be enough to buy a ticket. I’ll never see it again, but part of me doesn’t hate the fact that I saw it once.