The Devil Inside has the germ of a decent idea and three or four very, very good sequences, two of which are featured heavily in the trailers. For horror hounds, three or four great sequences is probably enough to get your ass in the seats; for everyone else, they don’t make up for the rest of a laughably acted, shoddily written exorcism film with one of the more head-scratchingly abrupt endings I’ve seen in a very long while.
The Devil Inside is a faux-documentary/found footage hybrid. It centers around Issa Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), who — along with her boyfriend — is documenting her trip to the Vatican, where she’s set to meet her mother for the first time since she was locked away in a mental institution in 1989 for murdering three clergymen with an ax. The hook here is that Issa’s mother murdered these people while they were performing an exorcism on her. The reasons why her mother was transferred to an institution in the Vatican after she was convicted aren’t entirely clear, except that the Vatican is very church-y, and in addition to being about the line between mental disease and possession, the film wants to be about the corrupt bureaucracy of the church.
Unfortunately, those under-developed themes are muddled under a heinously acted horror film. The found footage subgenre itself is obviously worn to the nubbin, but what has made it work in the past — with films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project — is that at least the performances felt close to something approximating natural. The characters in those films may be dumb, and they may be obnoxious, but the movies didn’t feel terrifically staged. Those films were made on shoestring budges, and scripts were likely improvised along the way. The actors in The Devil Inside, on the other hand, sound like they’re reading (poorly) from a (bad) script. It’s almost impossible to invest yourself because it all feels so overwrought and manufactured.
However, The Devil Inside does get some mileage out of its exorcism scenes: They are effective, suitably chilling, and well shot and would be amazing if they were divorced from the rest of the film. Issa’s demon-possessed mother (Suzan Crowley) is creepy as all hell, and if the movie had focused more on her — rather than the daughter, boyfriend, and two Vatican priest there to perform exorcisms — it might have been a far better film.
As it is, writer/director William Brent Bell (Stay Alive) seems to be trying very hard to mine the Paranormal Activity formula, right down to the out-of-nowhere, you-mean-that’s-it? conclusion. But it’s too transparent. The performances come from bad actors pretending to be good actors pretending to be amateurs, which effectively nullifies the conceit. But as exorcism porn — assuming you fast-forward to all the good parts — there are a few great money shots to get your heart racing if you were so inclined to watch it in the middle of the night on Netflix someday.