Wednesday, June 19, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #19: THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012)

The Story: A young woman learns that her mother murdered two priests and a nun during an exorcism, and travels to Rome to find out if mom is really demonically possessed.

Expectations: THE EXORCIST remains, for many people, the scariest horror movie ever made.  That explains why so many films in recent years (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, THE LAST EXORCISM, THE RITE, et al.) have tried to duplicate its success.  An argument can be made that exorcism movies are scariest for viewers who already believe in the possibility of demonic possession.... but if that's true, it seems to me that there are a lot of believers out there.  Is that why it's easier for horror filmmakers to scare people with talk of demons than with, say, aliens?  Maybe. 

I'd like to point out, however, that THE EXORCIST does not work simply because of its subject matter or its timing (1973).  It works because of William Peter Blatty's storytelling and William Friedkin's filmmaking technique.  Both clearly know how to build character, how to build suspense, how to get under our skin.  That's why, 40 years later, every exorcism film that comes along inevitably gets compared to THE EXORCIST.  I can't even pretend to watch something like THE DEVIL INSIDE without holding it up against the gold standard of demonic possession movies... and those are some big shoes to fill.

Reaction: Despite almost universal rejection by critics, THE DEVIL INSIDE isn't a bad film.  There are some solid scare techniques at work here, and the filmmaker manages to effectively build suspense in a few key sequences.  The problem is that the film, overall, feels lightweight and predictable. 

The first setback is the BLAIR WITCH documentary film gimmick.  I recognize that this is a cost-saving measure that allows low-budget filmmakers to do their thing, and that THE DEVIL INSIDE probably couldn't have been financed as a bigger production... but I also recognize that the gimmick has been used more effectively in films like THE FOURTH KIND, LAKE MUNGO, even THE LAST EXORCISM.  The limitations of lower budget filmmaking can sometimes help to heighten realism, but only when the story is believable. 

Like many other paranormal horror films in the past few years, this one claims to be "inspired by a true story."  I don't think that claim has any kind of real effect on moviegoers these days.  Even if the events in this film are "true," they nevertheless follow a predictable horror movie formula, right up to an abrupt and unsatisfying ending.  (If you had problems with the end of BLAIR WITCH, don't even bother with this one.)  Again, I'm not saying that this is a bad film.  But compared to something like THE EXORCIST, it's trite... and, like I said, no informed viewer in this day and age can avoid the comparison.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Two sequences employ contortionists to illustrate "preternatural movement."  These are probably the images that will stick with me longer than anything else from the film.  I guess that doesn't say much about the subtler aspects of the storytelling.  To be fair, I suppose people talk more about the pea soup  and the spider walk in THE EXORCIST than about pervasive feelings of dread... but I think that's only because it's hard to articulate feelings of dread.  For me personally, THE DEVIL INSIDE didn't conjure any lasting feelings of dread.

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