January 6, 2012

‘The Devil Inside’: In January, No Soul Is Safe (VIDEO | 6 PHOTOS)

William Brent Bell's horror film follows a young woman’s investigation into the events that landed her mother in Italy’s Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Dabbling in the same, shaky handheld horror arena as The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside purports to follow, documentary-style, a young American woman’s investigation into the events that landed her mother in Italy’s Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane two decades earlier.

While that 2010 film ultimately failed to deliver on some admittedly chilling atmospherics, this latest variation, directed and co-written by William Brent Bell, never gets off the ground, trotting out the same predictable twisting heads and psycho-babble without a whiff of originality or discernible visual flair.

As a result, the would-be thriller proves as scary and unsettling as a slab of devil’s food cake — only considerably less satisfying.

Horror fans hungry for a demonic possession fix could initially take the bait, but subsequent word-of-mouth should mean that Paramount’s Insurge genre label won’t have a new Paranormal Activity on its hands.

All that endless talking into cinematographer Gonzalo Amat’s handheld camera begins back in 1989, with emergency responders working their way through a domestic crime scene in which a distraught woman (Suzan Crowley) has brutally murdered three people—all belonging to her church.

Determined to find out what happened to her mother that night, daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), with a trusty videographer in tow, travels to Italy and hooks up with a pair of ordained priests (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth), who happen to perform forbidden ritual exorcisms on the side.

After much debate about whether their subjects are mentally ill or possessed by il diavolo, the group finally gets down to the business at hand where Isabella’s institutionalized mom is concerned, only to get more than they bargained for when it appears she’s harboring not one but four demons with nasty powers of transference.

Saddled with its tired docu format, the production can never extricate itself from all those directly-into-the-lens personal confessions and its constant rehashing of the same previously shown footage to establish any sort of prevailing mood other than random hysteria.

With the exception of veteran British actress Crowley, who’s efficiently disturbing as Isabella’s damaged mother, the rest of the cast is less convincing, coming across as actors self-consciously playing their earnest roles, often to chuckle-inducing effect.

And then there’s that opening statement that “The Vatican did not endorse this film or aid in its completion.”

Good call.

Opens: Friday, January 6 (Paramount Insurge)
Production companies: Prototype
Cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
Director: William Brent Bell
Screenwriters: William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Executive producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian, Eric Howsham
Producers: Matthew Peterman, Morris Paulson
Director of photography: Gonzalo Amat
Production designer: Tony DeMille
Music: Brett Detar, Ben Romans
Costume designer: Terri Prescott
Editors: Timothy Mirkovich, William Brent Bell
Rating: R, 83 minutes

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