Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Devil Inside

In The Details

The Devil Inside US 2012
Directed by William Brent Bell
Playing at UK cinemas now

See? I told you they were popular now.

Found footage, first person shooters are getting released all the time, as of late.

I’ve been doing this blog for just a week over two years and I’ve already had to watch and review eight of these before this one. That’s an average of four of these kinds of movies a year and so you maybe think the directors of these things ought to take a break for a while but, occasionally, you get something really special from a creative director who is willing to push the boundaries and bring you a movie which is quite fresh and phenomenal within this relatively new genre (like Chronicle).

Unfortunately, this movie isn’t it.

It’s kinda interesting because the film is far from terrible, though, and I’ve seen some outrageously bad word of mouth on it which kinda surprised me a little. I’m thinking the ending of the movie may have been a major effect on audience reaction, in this case, but while obvious in some places, the film did deliver the “jump scares” when it needed to.

So... right from the start and the caption that the edited together filmed footage is not being shown with the blessings of the Church, the audience will realise that this isn’t a found footage film which is meant to “exactly” represent that footage as being a complete window into “reality”. Not that it’s an option anyway, of course. Pseudo-reality is always artifice and so nothing is really lost.

I guess what I’m driving at is that I was noticing jump cuts right from the start of this movie, while the dialogue of a woman narrating was kept running smoothly over the top. So the audio and visual elements have obviously been edited together by an unseen hand (definitely not edited by a character in the film) at some point in the future... and not just allowed to play out as found footage. This is further compounded by having a subtle but oft present musical score behind some of the scenes... which is where the credibility really goes out the window and down the long Friedkin flight of steps for me. If you’re trying to enhance the mood of sinister and scary then you’re not really doing your job at presenting “facts” without any bias are you... even when they’re “make believe” facts.

Okay... now asides from this little bugbear, I’d have to say that this is a fairly scary film... and we’re mainly talking about jump-scares here but that’s not a problem, there’s still a certain amount of skill involved in getting the timing of those things right and when you’re shooting long takes of rehearsed “found footage”... well if you can get these things right then you’re halfway there.

Something’s a little flat here though, to be sure. And it’s a shame because the premise is fantastic. A young woman goes to Rome to visit her incarcerated mother who, twenty years before, killed three people who were trying to exorcise a demon (or series of demons as it transpires) from inside her. The church no longer really permits exorcism but, in a lucky twist of fate, two of the students she meets in Rome taking classes in “exorcism theory” are actually a maverick duo of covert exorcists... they basically roam around Rome having a go at all the cases the church rejects from their secret "exorcism base." Great idea for a set of characters but... dunno, somehow I felt a little underwhelmed about it all... but that’s certainly not down to the acting.

The acting and (shaky) camerawork are all impeccable on this production, as you’d expect when you try to make a movie where you have to trust your actors with such large chunks of time. With films like this and, for example, the Paranormal Activity films, you need to get yourself some decent actors who are willing to explore that kind of territory and let the characters embed themselves for the long haul, is my guess. However the script does tend to overplay it’s hand a little too much and it’s pretty obvious for most of the film, what exactly is going to transpire from scene to scene. The script just seems a little too heavy handed in that regard... or should I just say ham-fisted?

Like near the start of the movie where the girl is confessing her innermost fears to the cameraman (yeah, we all know what happens to cameramen in these kinds of films, right?) and she worries that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and inherit her mental condition. I felt like saying “Stop right there dearie. You just told us exactly what’s going to happen to your character by the end of the movie.” Or another sequence where one of the priests in the “maverick exorcists splinter group” seems to be acting a little troubled and you think... okay they’ve been talking about both demonic transference and multiple possession a little earlier in the film... so we know what that’s all about then, don’t we? Sure enough, when the priest in question goes to perform a baptism, you just know something bad is going to happen... and happen it does.

Now this is not too bad because at least those sequences, indeed the whole movie, play out quite credibly and do make you jump and feel anxious at just the right moments... but I felt like I was watching a perfectly executed exercise in overstating the obvious a lot of the time. This film has some superb characters and personalities, and some scary stuff happens, but it’s also got to be one of the dumbest “found footage” movies I’ve seen in some time.

The ending, again, is fairly obvious. You know the characters are rushing in a car to get the aid of some kind of extra-special super exorcist but you also know that any such showdown will cost even more money to produce on film. And it would have to be some kind major showdown after witnessing the intense power of... um... The Devil Inside one of the characters at this point. So then you realise, well actually the movie is going to end in a couple of minutes probably, and here’s how. And again, yes it’s pretty obvious how this film is going to finish. And, since the characters are going somewhere specific that the audience wants to see before that happens... well, I think that’s where a lot of the negative word-of-mouth on this one is coming from. The ending is sudden but predictable and, though it’s a perfectly valid way of ending the film, I think a fair few people are going to be left really unsatisfied by the finish of this one. If it’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that people do tend to judge a film, nine times out of ten, by the strength of the ending.

So that’s about it for me but I should take one little sideswipe before I go, this time at the marketing of the movie. The main image I’ve seen used on the posters for this one is a head and shoulders shot of a sinister and demonic looking, blind nun. I’ll tell you now that this shot has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie (maybe a slight subtext if you’re talking in-movie logic for some of the demonic possession effects) and is in a two or three second shot at most. This image in no way represents the movie in anything other than tone... and frankly I’d argue that it doesn’t match the tone of the film either, in my opinion. Not a good image, I’d say, to market this movie with.

All in all, though, it’s a nicely executed, low budget horror which will skillfully cause more than its fair share of scares and anxiety to the audiences who crave such cheap, sensational thrills (happy to count myself in that audience thank you very much). If you’re a fan of the found-footage, first person shooter genre or are a big fan of low budget horror, then you could do a lot worse than to check this one out. Certainly not the most intelligent movie on the block but it tries hard (sometimes a little too hard for its own good) and if you can get past the obvious ending then you might find yourself having a good time. I’ll certainly get this one on DVD to look at again, just because I liked the idea of some of the characters.