FILM REVIEW: The Devil Inside (15)

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Director William Brent Bell jumps on the rickety Paranormal Activity bandwagon with a found footage horror styled as a documentary about exorcisms.

The Devil Inside attempts to convince us about the veracity of this hokum with a telephone recording to emergency services followed by grainy footage taken by South Hartford Police as they walk a blood-spattered crime scene.

“The Vatican did not endorse this film, nor aid in its completion,” declares the opening title card.

Nor, it seems, did a screenwriter capable of crafting fully-fledged three-dimensional protagonists and realistic dialogue.

Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman clumsily contrive the set pieces, blatantly setting up the finale with off-camera expositional dialogue that is too loud and clear to be mere background noise.

We’re always several paces ahead of the characters as they blunder towards disaster, their whimpers and screams captured on three cameras that have been placed fortuitously in just the right spots to document each chilling encounter.

On October 30, 1989, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) telephones the police to confess to slaying three members of her church group during an exorcism. Her exorcism.

She is spirited away to Centrino Mental Hospital in Rome where she withers behind closed doors.

Twenty years later, Maria’s daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) makes a documentary about exorcisms to better understand the dark forces that supposedly took hold of her mother.

Film-maker Michael Schaeffer (Ionut Grama) follows Isabella on her journey into the unknown.

“I need to know what happened,” meekly asserts the young woman as a reason for making the film.

The couple travels to Rome, gatecrashes a seminar led by Father Robert Gallo (Claudiu Trandafir) and befriends priests Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth), who are undertaking illegal exorcisms on unfortunate souls.

The exorcism of young Rosa Sorlini (Bonnie Morgan) in a dingy basement persuades Isabella to contact Doctor Antonio Costa (Claudiu Isotodor), chief of staff at Centrino, and set up a similar procedure for her mother.

The Devil Inside commits the cardinal sin of forgetting to scare the living daylights out of the audience.

A couple of cheap scares would crank up and dissipate tension but dramatic momentum is pedestrian and the spry running time feels considerably longer than 83 minutes.

Exorcism sequences tick off a checklist of horror tropes - levitation, painful bodily contortions, speaking in tongues - condemning Ben and David to a similar fate as the spirited men of the cloth in William Friedkin’s seminal 1973 tale of demonic possession.

“It’s not a matter of demonic possession. It’s a matter of brain function,” argues Dr Costa, clinging firmly to medical science.

Sadly, the film’s brain function is impaired and we quickly diagnose a grave deficiency of invention and verve.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 4/10

Released: March 16 (UK & Ireland), 83 mins