Having watched too many movies on DVD lately, I was pleased to attend a New York promo screening of The Devil Inside in which a D.J. blasted bad music and men dressed as priests blessed the audience and told them they had free will and shouldn’t blame the church for what they were about to see. It was a packed, rowdy house, and the movie, by no means good, held it pretty well for a while. The opening sequence, allegedly a 1989 police video showing three mangled bodies after a failed exorcism, is quite eerie. (The homicide detective reports the compass direction in which each of the blood-drenched bodies is facing — a nice detail.) We learn that the apparently possessed killer, Maria Rossi, is now in a mental hospital in Rome, where the Vatican seems to be keeping tabs on her. Her grown daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), only recently learned that Maria was still alive, and she and a cameraman set out for Italy to make a documentary about unofficial exorcists and a mother-and–child reunion.
After half an hour, The Devil Inside looked to be a disposable but decent exorcism mockumentary, a sort of Linda Blair Witch Project. The vérité style that became a big hit with Blair Witch and has been used successfully in Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield is not especially imaginative, but it does a good job of disguising a filmmaker’s amateurishness and low budget. Director William Brent Bell hits his marks. It’s always fun to watch bony, hollow-eyed white women grotesquely contort their bodies, call priests “cocksuckers,” and hurl them against walls. Bell plays well with technology. It’s a good, creepy moment when the young Brit exorcist (the crisp, compelling Simon Quarterman) rewinds his videotaped session with Maria (Suzan Crowley) and isolates four distinct voices coming out of the woman. It’s true that Andrade is less convincing than the average soap ingenue and the dialogue is so banal that you could be watching Real Possessed Housewives of Vatican City. But there are a few good jolts.
The climax begins promisingly, with a couple of solid, splattery set pieces followed by a rollicking car ride through the night with a bucking-and-heaving possessed woman in the backseat. I was reasonably happy, the audience was with it, and then … everything went to hell. It has been a long time since I’ve heard people — many people — distinctly yell, “Boo!” Usually they just growl or moan or hiss. They don’t bother actually to articulate the word “Boo!” I second their statement. The ending reeks. In the lobby, a “priest” was handing out cards with the name of a website on which we can learn more about this real-life case. I called him a cocksucker and hurled him against the wall.