Title: The Devil Inside
Director: William Brent Bell (‘Stay Alive‘)
Starring: Fernanda Andrade (‘Sons of Anarchy’), Simon Quarterman (‘The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior’) and Evan Helmuth (‘Fever Pitch’)
Dramatizing a supposedly real exorcism in the ever-popular found footage sub-genre is a frighteningly effective plot element for horror directors. Despite the early success of the sub-genre with such acclaimed hits as ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Paranormal Activity,’ the real-life use of terrifying shots has lost its efficiency in scaring viewers. ‘The Devil Inside,’ the latest entry in the found footage category that claims to be inspired by actual events, is the perfect example of why the pieced-together shots of the missing or dead doesn’t automatically guarantee an intriguing storyline.
‘The Devil Inside’ follows Maria Rossi (played by Suzan Crowly) as she calls 911 in 1989 to report that she had brutally killed three people. It’s revealed the victims were two clergy members and a nun from Maria’s church, who were performing an unsanctioned exorcism on her. Twenty years later, her daughter, Isabella (portrayed by Fernanda Andrade), begins filming a documentary to uncover what really happened on the night of her mother’s ill-fated exorcism. She’s determined to find out if her mother is really mentally ill, as the Vatican insists, or if she’s demonically possessed.
Isabella travels to the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rome, where her mother was sent after she was declared not guilty of the murders by reason of insanity. With the help of a cameraman, Michael (played by Ionut Grama), Isabella recruits two exorcists, Ben (portrayed by Simon Quarterman) and David (portrayed by Evan Helmuth). The group tries to cure Maria using unconventional methods that combine science and religion, and as a result, they come face-to-face with pure evil.
Andrade, who is making her feature film leading role debut with ‘The Devil Inside,’ started off the supernatural horror movie convincingly questioning the motives of her mother, and what led her to commit the murders. The actress, who has made a name for herself guest starring on such television roles as ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and ‘The Glades,’ portrayed Isabella as being well-adjusted, and even content, with her life. But with the numerous attempts made by her father to find out what went wrong with his wife before his recent death, Isabella understandably wanted to fill the void of essentially losing both of her parents.
But over the course of ‘The Devil Inside,’ in part to Andrades’ inexperience in leading a cast in a full-length feature, the actress unfortunately lost touch with Isabella’s emotions and motives. As she persistently pushes Michael and David to jeopardize their careers in the church, and even face deportation from Italy, just to look into the possibility that her mother is demonically possessed. Isabella has no regard in how the investigation into her mother’s case will affect the priests, or even Michael, who cared for her welfare in the beginning of the film. But when he questioned whether pursing another exorcism for Maria is the moral thing to do, she doesn’t take his opinion into consideration, and instead lashes out at him.
While everyone wants to connect with their parents, and care for their well-being, Isabella seems more interested in the act of exorcism than actually saving Maria. Having grown up without her mother for most of her life, and learning how to be independent, Isabella doesn’t discuss why she wants her mother back in her life. She seems happier that David, and especially Ben, are eager to appease her every whim and desire, as opposed to Michael, who increasingly questions her motives.
While Grama is heard more than he’s seen, as he’s filming many of the events throughout the course of ‘The Devil Inside,’ he surprisingly gives the most intriguing performance in the film. While Michael agrees to shoot the documentary for Isabella, and is concerned for her safety, he is the only one who isn’t eager into automatically performing an exorcism on Maria. The actor convincingly plays the cameraman as being skeptical that everything going on is related to the supernatural. Michael is the surprising voice of reason among Isabella, Ben and David, as he’s concerned for everyone’s well-being, not just Maria’s safety.
Helmer and co-scribe William Brent Bell, whose last directorial and writing effort was the ill-received 2006 horror film ‘Stay Alive,’ unfortunately didn’t improve his filmmaking skills with ‘The Devil Inside.’ The movie, which is said to be inspired by true events, geared its viewers up for the resolution of Ben and David’s exorcism on Maria, as well as the ultimate effects the practice has on Isabella. Unfortunately, (**SPOILER ALERT***) the director tried too hard to convince his viewers that the Rossi story is real by ending the movie without a clear resolution, instead saying the investigation is still on-going.
‘The Devil Inside’ encourages the audience to visit the Rossi Files website to check for updates on the case. After watching Isabella’s determination to save her mother for nearly an hour-and-a-half, and investing in the characters’ struggles with their beliefs and morals, viewrs will surely become upset on not receiving a definite resolve on the success of Mara’s exorcism. It seems as though Bell ran out of ideas and any plausible solution to the characters’ conflict, and needed to advert his viewers to a website with scant information, that also fails to provide any specific resolution to the case. (**END SPOILER ALERT**)
The found-footage documentary sub-genre has provided avid horror fans with acclaimed films that feature intriguing characters and true-to-life suspense. Unfortunately, ‘The Devil Inside’ is the latest entry in the sub-genre that lacks multi-dimensional characters and an original plot-line. It instead resorts to cliche portrayals of exorcists and potentially possessed victims. Even Andrades doesn’t quite believe the implausible actions Isabella takes to reconnect with her mother, which undoubtedly led to Bell to not even summoning up the creativity to include a satisfying ending.
Written by: Karen Benardello