I have said it before and I will say it again. I am not a fan of shaky cam shots especially for feature films, even if it is presented as documentaries. While there are exceptions, The Devil Inside, the story of Isabella Rossi, the daughter of a woman who killed three people during an exorcism rite performed on her in 1989, is not one of them.
The film basically investigates the case of Maria Rossi, Isabella’s mother, who was brought to a mental facility in Rome to be treated for insanity after the unexplained killings three clergymen in her home 20 years ago. The “found footage” chronicled Isabella’s trip to Italy with documentarist Michael, and their attempt to determine if there was a conspiracy in the Church to hide Maria’s demonic possession or if she was truly insane as what the mental facility claimed. As the two begin to find inconsistencies with the facility’s stance, they utilize the help of two young priests — David, who is also a physician by profession, and Ben, an ordained exorcist who has secrets of his own.The two combine the scientific approach with the spiritual and secretly aid the “possessed” who have been rejected by the Church. After viewing the footage from Isabella’s visit to her mother, the priests agree to assess Maria for demonic possession and perform exorcism on her even without the blessing of the Church if they find her positive. Things begin to get complicated when the group’s attempt to save Maria ends in failure.
The film actually set the tone from disclaimers flashed in the beginning of the movie. The film’s intent was obviously to cast shadow over the Church’s handling of cases pertaining to demonic possessions and in using the found footage approach, the filmmakers seemed to believe that people will take the events as actual fact and believe in a grand conspiracy that surrounds the Vatican and the issue of exorcisms. However, while I am not discounting the possibility of actual conspiracies happening of the same nature, the movie, strictly on a technical basis, still seemed predictable in the way that most sequences of exorcism seemed to have been shown in other movies prior, may it be in feature films (The Exorcism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, The Rite… I could go on), or other shaky cam versions. There were also some elements of Quarantine thrown in if only to establish a sense of urgency.
There were lengthy sequences of exorcism and too many close calls for the team. However, despite all of these experiences, instead of feeling sympathetic to the characters, I could not help but feel like the group brought it upon themselves — that their ego got the most of them, which contributed to their mishandling of the situation. I am particularly appalled at Ben, whose renegade and half cocked approach to Isabella’s case ruins the image of priests as levelheaded men of the cloth. His pronouncement that they could even use the footage to get media publicity is both unethical and underhanded, especially for one who claims to want to help people who are possessed by evil. If there was one person in the movie I felt sorry for, it was David because while he was not the bravest of the bunch, he at least had the sense to step back and try to re-evaluate the situation to proceed more cautiously. Sadly, he did not have enough of a backbone to impose his ideas. Michael too, seemed like he got more than what he signed up for, especially when Isabella’s emotions got the best of her decisions.
In my opinion, the film started off with a great idea. People are drawn to conspiracies and that was what the filmmakers originally intended to serve. But somehow, towards the middle, it began to lose its focus and settled for the hiccup instead of the big picture.The story lost its steam in telling about the grand conspiracy but rather became a tale of how fragile the issue of exorcism is if not given the respect it deserves. The film managed to achieve the opposite of its goal, and became a tool to strengthen the faithful’s conviction that the Church is doing its job. As for whether or not the film made sense, that’s another story altogether.