The Review Revue: THE DEVIL INSIDE

In “The Review Revue,” we turn dozens of movie reviews from all over the Internet into one handy blog post. It’s like super-concentrated orange juice for film criticism (with less pulp and Vitamin D). This week: we exorcise the critical demons of THE DEVIL INSIDE.

Just one week into 2012, we’ve already got the first surprise hit of the year: THE DEVIL INSIDE, a $1 million found footage horror movie, scared up a whopping $33.7 million at the box office this past weekend. Even after marketing costs, that lands the film squarely in the black after just three days of release. But is THE DEVIL INSIDE any good? Or is it just the beneficiary of weak competition and strong marketing? Let’s find out.

Director: William Brent Bell
Writers: William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Cast: Fernanda Andrade (Isabella Rossi), Simon Quarterman (Ben), Suzan Crowley (Maria Rossi)
Plot Synopsis: A young woman investigates the triple homicide her mother committed twenty years earlier. Did The Devil make her do it? (It’s an exorcism movie, of course he did.)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 7%
Metacritic Score: 23

Most Positive: Jennie Punter, Toronto Globe and Mail:

“While it doesn’t exactly reinvent the inverted cross, THE DEVIL INSIDE definitely puts a nifty indie spin on the demonic possession genre. With a cast of competent unknowns, including lively foreign bit players, the film is mostly set and partly filmed in Rome. That’s Rome, Italy. This is an asset, because unfortunately the style is faux documentary, which was used to great effect in another nifty low-budget film, THE LAST EXORCISM, which was released last summer.”

(In Other Words:) It’s not THE EXORICST, but it’ll do for the first week of the calendar year. One of the few constants in the world of movies is the way expectations shape and influence our reactions to what we watch. If THE DEVIL INSIDE came out a month ago, directed by a famous filmmaker, it would be the worst thing badly sliced bread. But it’s January now, when all the movies that come out are kind of like irregulars at the close-out store: they’re functional, but they’ve all got at least one thing wrong with them. You go to the movies in January, or clothes shopping at the Job Lot, you know going in what you’re getting ain’t gonna be perfect. Maybe the script’s bad, or an actor was replaced at the last second with a particularly expressive cadaver, or maybe one sleeve is longer than the other (sorry, mixing my metaphors here). It’s not good, Punter says, but for the first week of January, it’s good enough.

Most Negative: Eric D. Snider,

“I wish that ‘disclaimer’ were the dumbest thing about this derivative faux-documentary, but it isn’t. Not by a long shot. The dumbest thing about it is that even though it doesn’t feature a single original idea or scary moment, a group of movie-industry professionals chose to put it in theaters. Theaters that charge admission! And it never even rises to the level of Fun Bad, where at least you can find enjoyment in the train wreck. A train can’t wreck if it never tries to go anywhere. It’s like they tried to make the blandest, most derivative, least memorable horror movie possible, carefully avoiding anything that might resemble actual entertainment.”

(In Other Words:) Even in January, a movie needs a base level of competence. In Snider’s view, THE DEVIL INSIDE is not enough of anything: not good enough to be scary, not bad enough to be funny. It’s just there, like a bump on a demonically possessed log. Though it certainly has some moments that will make you chuckle — Lord knows I laughed when Isabella, the film’s protagonist, walks uninvited into the “Vatican School For Exorcism” and starts auditing a class with a full camera crew in tow — it can’t even be said to fail spectacularly, because in order to do that, a movie needs to have ambition, and this one doesn’t. Oh, and if you were wondering: the “disclaimer” Snider refers to is a title card the opens the movie with the warning “The Vatican did not endorse this film nor aid in its completion.” Cause, y’know, the Vatican makes a lot of crappy exorcism movies.

Most Typical: Drew McWeeny, HitFix:

“THE DEVIL INSIDE begins a very quick gallop towards home video at theaters everywhere starting today, and I expect Twitter to strip the bones clean off the movie by 10:30 Friday night. Word of mouth will be savage. When the director’s credit came up in the theater I was in tonight, people began to boo. Many people. Spontaneously. I read about this happening in other theaters. That’s not a good sign. It takes a lot to get a paying audience to boo a film. And yet it’s happened in more than one place tonight.”

(In Other Words:) The ending is terrible. Like really terrible. If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree on regarding THE DEVIL INSIDE, it’s the fact that the film’s anticlimactic ending — which I won’t spoil — is maddeningly, even brazenly unsatisfying. People booed at McWeeny’s theater about three hours after they did the exact same thing at my theater, 3,000 miles away. When people begin spontaneously booing a movie all over the country, something is wrong. People almost never boo movies. I saw BATTLEFIELD EARTH in the theater; no one booed. I saw GIGLI in the theater; no one booed (granted, I was the only one there, but I didn’t boo). When I posted about the widespread negative reaction to the film, someone on Twitter accused me of blowing things out of proportion, and insisted that people are sheep who will do anything to feel like a part of something. That’s maybe the craziest thing I’ve ever been accused of on Twitter — and one time on Twitter a guy accused me of trying to start a cult devoted to the music of Michael McDonald (Ya mo be sorry when it happens, ZurgLord619!). I’m not blowing it out of proportion; the end of the movie really is that bad. In an interview with Bloody Disgusting the filmmakers blamed the controversy on their studio, Paramount. “Good or bad, it’s kind of unique,” said director William Brent Bell of the offending title card placed on the end of the film. Bad, Mr. Bell. Definitely bad. But unique, too, I suppose, because I doubt anyone will have the cojones to try it again.

The One Review You Have to Read: R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant:

“Comprehensively derivative, THE DEVIL INSIDE fills the Annual Exorcism Movie slot, attempts to serve found-footage realness, goes to elaborately futile lengths to support its subject’s ‘authenticity,’ and presumptuously designs itself for a viewership of suckers inundated with challenge-free reality television…Quite slow on the uptake, Isabella, whom Andrade plays as convincingly as JWoww anchoring 60 Minutes, is a modern 24-year-old who has to be told by a pair of rogue priests that upside-down crosses are signs of Beelzebub, and whose response to the priest’s plainly ominous recommendation that she ‘truly understand’ exorcisms is, ‘So, more classes?’”

(In Other Words:) It’s about as fake as a fake documentary can get. I’m actually a fan of found footage horror movies. Done right — in films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and the underrated THE LAST EXORCISM — they bypass the jaded part of our brains that reassures us that what we’re watching is just a movie. They insist that this terrifying thing really happened, and when they’re done well, that insistence is actually pretty scary. But there’s nothing more annoying than a faux documentary that breaks the form’s rules, and as Osenlund observes in his smart review, THE DEVIL INSIDE has about as much to do with actual documentaries as an episode of Cop Rock had to do with actual police work. If you’re paying attention, you’ll spot tons of cheats: in the (otherwise effective) first meeting between Isabella and her demonically possessed mother, most of the shots come from the perspective of a handheld cameraman in the room with the two women. But when the film cuts to a surveillance camera wide shot of the mother’s room, there’s no cameraman in sight. What happened to the director of photography? Was he a ghost?

Oh crap — I think I just gave somebody the idea for next January’s found footage horror movie.

The Critical Consensus In One Sentence From One Review: “F.” — CinemaScore exit poll review, Actual THE DEVIL INSIDE Paying Customers.

THE DEVIL INSIDE is now playing in wide release.