By Jessica Delfanti | January 6, 2012
Director: William Brent Bell
Writers: William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Starring: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
As a subcategory of the horror genre, the exorcism film does not have the best reputation. For every The Exorcist, there are a dozen Posessed’s and Beyond the Door’s. Yet, when done well, there is rarely something as profoundly disturbing as the image of someone in the grips of demonic possession. The Devil Inside combines traditional exorcism tropes with a quick, well written story to provide a deliciously horrifying package; blood, Bible and all.
Writer/Director William Brent Bell appears to have an acute understanding of exorcism film’s successful attributes and its traditional flaws. Recycled trademarks like unnaturally contorted bodies, speaking in tongues, and sexual threats are all present in The Devil Inside, but they do not feel old or tired. The film also avoids any preachy religious characters, and overly elaborate makeup. Bell brings freshness to the subject by approaching it from a different angle; he does not follow the linear progression of a possession, but rather approaches the subject of possession from a distance and narrows upon several victims through a nonlinear narrative. As a result, the film does not carry the standard exorcism film formula, where the viewer knows exactly when to rest in safe boredom, and when to tense in preparation for the climax.
More important than his approach, however, is Bell’s portrayal of the actual exorcisms. Too frequently in films of demonic possession, there is thematic discussion without satisfying horror scenes to back it up. The Devil Inside does not shy away from its subject; each exorcism and possession is examined in full, grotesque detail. The effects are seamless, careful, and tastefully explicit. One victim breaks her own bones and contorts wildly, as exorcists Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) attempt to drive out the demon. The scene is disturbingly authentic and the details are obsessively precise. For the first time on screen, exorcism feels real.
As with so many horror films these days, the storyline appears to take the backseat. In faux-documentary style, the film follows Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) who travels to Italy to visit her hospitalized mother, Maria (Suzan Crowley) to investigate the truth of an incident from her childhood: Maria viciously murdered three people while they performed an exorcism–on her.
The lackluster story creates more of a foundation upon which to build a study of exorcism than a structure for the film. Emotionally, the viewers become much more entranced with the activities of the cynical priest Ben, and his reluctant partner, David. Their conversations over the morality of performing illegal exorcisms and unravelling the truth behind Maria’s questionable possession are well written and intellectually stimulating, giving the film a feeling of depth that the main storyline doesn’t supply.
With the exception of a particularly cliche “horror movie” ending, The Devil Inside is a horror film that will intrigue even the most discerning horror fans, and terrify those less acquainted with the genre’s staples. This one definitely deems a rewatch–but this time, we’ll keep the lights on and the Bible close.