The Devil Inside Review: The Best Exorcism Film Since The Exorcist

It is consistently edgy, atmospheric and horrific, offering some truly gruesome moments, all perfectly executed by the filmmakers and delivered with class by the actors.

[rating: 4]

The Devil Inside is both the latest exorcism movie and the latest found footage from an incomplete documentary film to hit cinemas, which smashed the US box office when it opened in January to the tune of $33 million dollars. Not bad considering it cost less than a million to make and eventually went on to gross 83 times that worldwide and hasn’t even opened in the UK until today.

The setting for our press screening of the film was a suitably spooky Round Chapel in Hackney, which provided incredible acoustics for the film and having actual nuns and priests acting as Ushers and singing hymns in Latin added to what was already a great, Gothic setting for the screening. Odd considering the fact the film begins with the same tagline that is splashed across all the posters, ‘The Vatican does not endorse this movie’.

Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) travels from America to Rome to visit her Mother whom she has not seen since she was declared insane and mysteriously sent to an asylum in Vatican City after murdering three members of her local church that were trying to perform an Exorcism on her. Isabella’s life has been haunted ever since and she finally wants to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her Mother and determine whether she is insane or is in fact possessed.

She attends a class on Exorcism where she meets Fathers Ben and David who are both ordained exorcists and rebels against the strict rules the Catholic Church now has in place around performing an exorcism; in essence it is the very last resort and can only be taken into consideration if all forms of mental illness can be absolutely ruled out.

Isabella meets her Mother (Suzan Crowley) and it’s clearly the woman she meets is not the one she called ‘Mommy’ as a little girl. She speaks in several different voices and languages, has upside down crosses scratched into her arms and gums, possesses super human strength and knows dark secrets about Isabella that she never shared with her. Is she possessed? The church doesn’t think so, but Isabella, Ben and David certainly do and take it upon themselves to perform an exorcism, which does not go to plan.

Made as a mockumentary, with a camera crew following Isabella on her trip, The Devil Inside sounds like just another exorcism movie that will draw a crowd off that alone. However, I was pleasantly surprised (and terrifyingly shocked) by the result. The Exorcist aside, I am not a fan of exorcism movies. Since starting writing for What Culture I have given caustic reviews to other movies that have attempted to take on the exorcism as a subject matter – The Rite and The Last Exorcism, classing them as clichéd and above all ineffective. And while on second viewing I found the latter of the two had some virtues (The Rite is a film I wish never to be in a fourty mile radius of) and used the mockumentary/ lost footage style of filmmaking to some effect I was left wanting, ultimately because it didn’t offer any new insight into exorcism. The Devil Inside, however, does just this.

I really enjoyed learning about the ways in which patients are now carefully studied and all aspects of mental illness taken into consideration before an exorcism is even considered. It paints a picture of the new Catholic Church, jaded in bureaucracy, for better or worse. It was also an excellent tool to make us root for this crew of people fighting against the odds of a huge organisation to do what they felt was right and free a woman from her inner turmoil.

Apart from this original and new to me – at least – information on the Catholic Church’s stance on exorcism the film is also exceptionally well made. Characters are well constructed, their motivations clearly laid out and the plot excellently set. The latter is well paced and unfolds in the style of a classic horror narrative, with a healthy dose of shocks, some gruesome, some unnerving, some just clever visual tricks that are nicely interspersed. The shaky camera is used to great effect and actually adds a real sense of realism to the exorcism scenes. But the real success is the sense of mood that is created and maintained. It’s atmospheric, edgy. They manage to make Rome very gothic and devoid of any real beauty. It looks dark and grey and miserable. The sun is absent from this Rome.

In the Eli Roth produced The Last Exorcism they started to play with the way a victim contorts their body in ways that boggle the mind, turn the stomach and cause a viewers face to scrunch up. As of course William Friedkin did in the original with the classic – and oft-comically lampooned – head turning scene. And here they take it a step further. Apart from there now being multiple occasions of extreme contortion, the execution is far more effective and cringe-inducing to the point I had to look away.

The cast are solid, with particular mention going to Suzan Crowley who plays the possessed mother. Crowley’s performance is as haunting as it is terrifying; her facial expressions, the way she throws her voice and the way she moves her body are deeply convincing and very affecting. Fernanda Andrade also holds her own in the leading role; she’s expressive and very genuine. It’s a performance of great restraint, but when she is called upon to be vulnerable or aggressive she comes through with great aplomb.

The ending is rather abrupt and lacks creativity; it does feel like the filmmakers ran out of steam and couldn’t find a good ending so decided to choose a smash-grab-get out while the audience are still reeling from the events that have come before, which is in keeping with the ‘lost footage’ genre that this sits in. I’m not sure whether this is a shame or a virtue. While they dodge the exorcism movie cliché, they fall into the ‘lost footage film’ cliché and ultimately pull short of doing something really creative. This is the film’s greatest flaw.

The ending aside, however, The Devil Inside is a thoroughly successful movie as both a horror film and a mockumentary. It is consistently edgy, atmospheric and horrific, offering some truly gruesome moments, all perfectly executed by the filmmakers and delivered with class by the actors.

The Devil Inside is released in UK cinemas from today.