The Devil is in the details
January 11, 2012
Despite its liberal use of “found documentary” video footage, “The Devil Inside’s” visual presentation is more than passable.
Here, the film is undone by miscalculations leading to its failure to create a satisfying final act.
Twenty-two years after her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley), brutally attacked and killed three members of the clergy, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) goes in search of answers. It’s 2009 when she travels to Rome, cameraman in tow, to visit her Maria in a Catholic mental institution. While her mother is technically a ward of the church, the official Catholic position disavows the notion that Maria is or ever was, possessed.
The hospital’s small windows and stone construction resemble that of an aging European museum. Apparently the hospital is also run like one since Maria’s psychiatrist claims he has no knowledge of the reasons her mother was transferred from the United States 20 years ago. Isabella, though clearly resourceful and intelligent, fails to question the doctor’s inability to read her mother’s file – the first of several major script errors.
Isabella’s chilling meeting with Maria is marked by her mother’s bizarre behavior and inexplicable knowledge of Isabella’s private life.
Since she’s in Rome, Isabella does as the Romans do and audits a Vatican course on exorcism. Here she meets a pair of renegade priests who offer to bring her, and her cameraman, along to the exorcisms they perform without the knowledge or authorization of the church. Played persuasively by Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth, the priests are compelling characters attempting to balance their faith in the church with its repeated failure to recognize legitimate cases of demonic possession.
When they finally meet and assess Isabella’s mother, the priests survive Maria’s superhuman strength and being slammed around the room like rag dolls, to discover that she is possessed by as many as four demons.
While exorcising the devil figures heavily into the priests’ lives, the story wisely allows them to struggle with other priorities and concerns. One priest particularly values keeping his frock and attempts to fulfill his routine priestly duties, unaware he has fallen prey to demonic transference (that’s when demons body-hop). While his possession is excellently portrayed and easily the creepiest of the batch, the script fails to explain why Maria’s demons wait 20-plus years to take the leap.
Errors aside, the film carefully lays the groundwork for a final act that could satisfy those dedicating an hour and half to an engrossing windup. Instead, the film’s rushed final scenes lead to a deceptive ending that fails to complete the story. At my screening, reactions ranged from, “That’s it?” to “You gotta be kidding.”
Personally, I think the Devil made them do it.