The Devil Inside

Contrary to what you might hope, The Devil Inside is not a biopic about INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997 under circumstances we shall not discuss. That would’ve been a more interesting movie, and possibly even a scarier one, than the film by that title currently in theaters. I’ll cut to the chase: Despite its opening-weekend gross of $34.5 million, The Devil Inside has already grown notorious for the widespread, quite vocal audience disappointment at its ending: booing, cries of “I want my money back!” My screening, I must report, was no different; one gentleman stood and delivered a two-word, unprintable capsule review — I was tempted to just go with that, but we do have a certain amount of space to fill here — while a woman offered rather plaintively, “Maybe if we wait, they’ll show another movie?” No, ma’am, they won’t.

In 1989, we are told, a woman named Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) killed two priests and a nun (rivalling the psychotic Krug in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, who’d killed two nuns and a priest) during an attempted exorcism at her house. An early news report we see, filed before the facts were in, characterizing this exorcism as “a church group” provides the one lonely bit of entertainment in the entire film. The Devil Inside is yet another mock-documentary, found-footage horror movie, which means we spend a lot of time wondering why the cameraman doesn’t just say — well, what the gentleman in my theater said — and run away. This intrepid, stupid cameraman tracks the journey of Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), the daughter of the woman with the triple murder rap. Maria is tucked away in a laughing academy in Rome, where, for fun, she carves crosses on her arms and generally behaves like every demon-possessed movie character of the last 39 years.

Isabella’s quest is to find out whether her mother is really possessed, and she enlists the help of two rogue priests who have sworn to perform unauthorized exorcisms on afflicted people the Vatican turns its back on. They mostly fumble about, looking at this reading or that, while the victim more or less dances on the ceiling and stops just short of going out like Michael Hutchence did. They first visit a possessed young woman played by someone who, I gather, is an impressive contortionist. Some Latin clears her right up. Then they visit Maria, a tougher nut to crack; whatever’s in her may have the ability to jump to another body. We know this because the word “transference” works its way into at least a dozen conversations, up to and including “Should we have Chinese or Italian take-out?”

Towards the miserable end, the itchy-footed demon hops from one person to another, and before the credits roll we are invited to visit http://www.therossifiles.com for more information on this developing case. This is how the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper but with a URL. “Be part of the ongoing investigation,” the website tells us. Thank you, but no. I see a great many lame things on the site, but a proper ending to the film I and many millions paid to see is not among them. I see “Click below to discuss the case with others,” but I do not see “Click below to get your money back.” In the comments section, I see many credulous viewers (or webmasters posing as such) debating solemnly over whether the film’s events were real, but I do not see anyone responding as did the loudly unimpressed gentleman in my theater, who I now maintain is the most spontaneously honest film critic I have heard since Pauline Kael died. Well done, sir; I concur.

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