The Devil Inside (2012)

Starring: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Ionut Grama, Suzan Crowley

Directed by: William Brent Bell

Rating: 1 2 and a half

Maria (Suzan Crowley) and Isabella (Fernanda Andrade)

As regular readers will know, I'm scared of the devil. So when the really quite horrible trailer for The Devil Inside flashed up at the multiplex, I felt a fright-filled 90 minutes had to be guaranteed.

Or not.

In 1989, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) killed three people while undergoing an exorcism. Now, twenty years later, her daughter Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) wants to discover what happened. Her search, documented by filmmaker friend Michael (Ionut Grama), takes her to Rome, where her mother has been incarcerated in a high security Catholic mental institution in the shadow of Vatican City. In an attempt to understand her mother's situation, Isabella starts taking exorcism classes, where she meets renegade priests Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), who, like the A-Team of the possession world, are the exorcists you call in when the church won't help.

Like The Last Exorcism and, er, just about every other horror film I've been to see recently, The Devil Inside employs the tried and tested found footage method to convince us that this unsettling tale of insanity and demonic shenanigans is for real.

But you don't need to believe demonic possession to be (in the words of Michael) 'bullsh*t' to remain unconvinced. For, while the film gets off to a promising start, revealing Maria's horrible history through a flickering montage of crime scene footage and faux-newsreels, it can't maintain the illusion of reality for long.

For starters, there's the camera work. Yes, it's meant to be found footage, but surely someone who styles themselves a documentary maker should be able to film someone walking down a street without lurching the camera around like a drunk teenager on YouTube? The dizzying swoops, sudden rotations and out of focus fumblings are just too try-hard, highlighting the artifice of the 'documentary' format and preventing you feeling any connection with Isabella and her story. Then there's the acting, which tries so hard to be natural it ends up painfully strained.

Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quaterman) and Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth) in The Devil Inside

And there are the logistics of the story. One does not simply walk into a high security mental hospital, toting a camera, and proceed to lock an extremely dangerous patient in a disused office and start exorcising her. Or maybe one does – exorcism in this film is not so much a triumph of good over evil, God over the devil, as a form of violent spiritual chemotherapy that rids the patient of a nasty, inconvenient disease. For a film about a battle for our immortal souls, it's a curiously soulless production.

On the plus side, it held my attention well enough and there are some nice, disturbing, double-jointed possession moments (although nothing we haven't seen before) but, for a film billed as terrifying, it simply wasn't scary – the only person who walked out was, as he declared loudly to all within earshot, 'bored'. And as for the much-criticised ending... Yeah, I felt a bit robbed too.

If you want to see a found footage film about exorcism, stick with The Last Exorcism. And if you want the mother of all demonic possession films, that calls into question everything you believe about God, the devil, faith, science and spirituality, go back to the original and still the best: The Exorcist.

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