THE DEVIL INSIDE. Starring Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth. Directed by William Brent Bell. Rated MA 15+ (Strong themes, violence and coarse language). 83 minutes.
It is almost forty years since the release of The Exorcist. Movie-makers and audiences have had an almost non-stop fascination with diabolic possession films and exorcisms. Fascination with ‘the dark side’? An indulgence in superstition? Morbid curiosity? Of course, those of a more sceptical frame of mind have an in-built resistance and can dismiss these films as harking back to medieval beliefs or treat the films as horror films and sit back in their seats with dismissive judgmental sensibilities.
Then there are those who are believers, who may have experienced possession and exorcism remotely, on television or in films, and wonder whether there is something in these bizarre stories and seemingly secret rituals.
In recent years, the Catholic Church has established a course in Rome for exorcists and those interested in these experiences of the devil. The course featured in the 2011 film with Anthony Hopkins, The Rite, and also features in this film.
The Devil Inside might be seen as a commercial rip-off of such films as The Rite – and it probably is. However, quite some thought has been given to the screenplay and its plausibility and checking out a lot of Catholic details. Critics will say that too little thought has been given to the screenplay – and with some justification concerning the ending since the film just stops (surprised laughter at the session I attended) with a more than melodramatic moment. Perhaps, the makers had run out of ideas and/or budget.
Again, the makers use the now tradition of The Blair Witch Project, disguising fiction as fact. They also do quite a bit of hand-held camera work to pretend that it is all authentic footage (often with dates and times indicated as in the Paranormal Activity series). It opens with a video of a crime scene walk through by detectives with commentary introducing the deaths of two priests and a nun during an exorcism of a housewife. After being declared criminally insane by the Connecticut courts, she was transferred to a Roman institution for the criminally insane. That was in 1989.
Now, in 2009, her daughter, Isabella, wants to understand what happens and decides to make a documentary. For the first part of the film, it continues in a documentary style, a film that you might see on television.
Isabella sits in on the course in Rome, which gives the film a chance to offer some thoughts on possession and raise questions about true possession and mental states. In the class are an American doctor become priest and an English priest whose uncle was an exorcist. They use technological equipment for their exorcisms and reveal that they are doing their work without church approval (with some comments in the vein of hierarchy cover-ups and bureaucratic mind-sets).
They take Isabella and her cameraman to an actual exorcism – echoes of The Exorcist with contortions, hurlings and prayer in English and Latin. Isabella agrees to a similar exorcism for her mother who has recognised her but is hostile – and has been officially declared mad rather than possessed.
By this time, the sceptic audience is probably in full scorn mode. The believers are wondering whether this can really happen. Those who have been following it sympathetically are hoping that the exorcism will be a success but their moviegoing experience is probably warning them that this is the stage where you surrender belief and just go with the ever-increasing melodramatic and violent flow. It actually does become more melodramatic than expected – and then that stop and the final credits.
It’s only a small-budget, 83 minute possession thriller so better not to make a mountain out of a mole hill. (In 2010, there was a Protestant/ Evangelical variation on this theme, The Last Exorcism). There is an initial disclaimer that the Vatican did not give any official approval of the film or help in its making!
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out March 1 2012.