In a world where belief in God is controversial, belief in the existence of an evil devil that has the capability to possess human beings is even more fantastical. Scientific minds repeatedly refute possession as a mental sickness, yet the fascination with the Catholic Rite of Exorcism continues to be a fascination for the film industry. “The Devil Inside,” an upcoming film slated for wide release from Paramount Studios in the U.S. on January 6th, appears to be another theatrical take on a subject many clerics avoid. Let’s face it—the idea that an evil being can take control of our human body is terrifying, even to the servants of God.
Scary as it may be, this film makes me excited, and even though Paramount is marketing the film as: “Not authorized by the Vatican,” I think the Catholic hierarchy should be ecstatic that Hollywood is placing Catholic beliefs at the forefront in modern media. Sure, there will be statements from the US Catholic Bishops Conference film review site that condemns the film, and many clerics will urge extreme caution when viewing it, but if “The Devil Inside” is not a terrible film, churches could see more people in the pews (remember what happened when “The Exorcist” was originally released?). From a sales perspective, the more people that hear a message equates to an increase in sales. Even if it means literally “scaring the hell” out of people, churches have high-budget advertising being funded and produced entirely by the film industry in films such as “The Devil Inside,” and churches will benefit. That is a pretty good deal if you ask me.
Aside from an increase in church-goers, even if it is temporary, my fascination with Exorcism also makes me excited to watch “The Devil Inside.” As a former seminarian studying to be a Catholic priest, I know that Exorcism is a part of the Church. What few people realize is that Exorcism is literally any act that expels Satan from someone or something, and that can range from a full-blown formal Exorcism to something as simple as a prayer to God. That is a pretty cool deal. Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist in the Diocese of Rome, Italy, wrote two books on the subject, and hearing about his experiences is actually quite interesting. In fact, he approaches exorcism in the same way that medical sciences do—he says that possession is a sickness that needs to be cured, and in order for the infirmed to recover, they need the proper treatment. In other-words, if someone is possessed, they need Exorcism, but if someone has a cold, a bit of cough-syrup will likely be more effective than Holy Water. While I don’t agree with all of his opinions, particularly on media, Amorth offers some incredible insights from a lifetime of doing battle with the Devil, insights that may give film-goers a little bit of comfort after watching “The Devil Inside.”
How much impact “The Devil Inside” has on viewers depends on whether or not it is a good film. The film industry, in recent years, has futilely attempted to tap the awesome power that William Friedkin utilized when he made: “The Exorcist.” Will our new possessed character be as terrifyingly real as Linda Blair? Will we have characters that identify with our lives and struggles, just as Fr. Damian Karras battled a crisis of faith until his ultimate end? “The Devil Inside” needs to be an effective film to have an impact on the box office, challenge public opinion, and maybe throw a few extra bodies in pews. Otherwise it will be another pointless rendition of Exorcism that utterly fails as a film, and viewers will walk away laughing. I’m looking forward to discovering the outcome.