This is the time of year for hot cups of cocoa, warm woollen mittens and, oh yeah, low-budget exorcism movies. And just your luck, there's one opening today.
As many of you know, January can be scary when it comes to visiting the multiplex. In this case, I don't mean low-budget-exorcism-movie-scary but rather roller-coaster-ride-scary – an unpredictable mix of highs and lows. Films released early in the new year are typically either art films that would have been lost in the holiday gift pack of awards contenders, or studio pictures you suspect are getting dumped, perhaps with a gentle marketing shove.
Which brings us to The Devil Inside, the low-budget exorcism movie in question (and, in case you were wondering, not a screen version of the well known INXS single).
The Devil Inside was not previewed for the media in time to make Friday print editions. For jaded film reviewers, this is generally an ominous sign. Paramount, which bought the independently-made film, clearly wants to avoid the opinions of critics who might not, you know, "get it," and repeat the word-of-mouth, Twitter-verse buzz that turned a low-budget flick it bought in 2007 called Paranormal Activity into a box-office juggernaut that spawned two sequels.
While it doesn't exactly reinvent the inverted cross, The Devil Inside definitely puts a nifty indie spin on the demonic possession genre. With a cast of competent unknowns, including lively foreign bit players, the film is mostly set and partly filmed in Rome. That's Rome, Italy. This is an asset, because unfortunately the style is faux documentary, which was used to great effect in another nifty low-budget film, The Last Exorcism, which was released last summer.
The screenplay was co-written by director William Brent Bell, another unknown entity, who sets a brisk pace and sustains it throughout. The film opens with a tidy set-up. In 1989 Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) called 911 to report that she had killed three people – two priests and a nun who were conducting an exorcism on her. Ten years later, her daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) decides to find out what really happened that night – is her mother mentally ill or is something else going on?
Conveniently for us, she decides to make a documentary about her quest. This involves travelling to Rome, where her mother is locked up in the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Does the film need to explain why her mother was mysteriously moved from the U.S. to Rome? Nope.
She arrives with her cameraman (Ionut Grama, who provides much of the comic relief) and soon meets a pair of young priests (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) trained by the Vatican to conduct official exorcisms. After some mumbo-jumbo chatter that sounds like it was lifted straight from the script research, they reveal they've got a little off-the-books business. When the Vatican won't give approval to conduct an exorcism on a clearly possessed person, the priest duo steps in to help.
They take Isabella to one of their sessions – a dark and chilling but not particularly frightening scene – after which she convinces them to visit her mother and assess her. When the sedative drugs wear off, Maria seems stable but then the voices, unusual strength and bugged-out eyes begin. Crowley is eerily convincing, a real treat particularly if you enjoy scenes of demonic possession.
Since the spoiler watchers are out there let's just say, well, after that all hell breaks loose and it's a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
The Devil Inside ends rather abruptly, which may annoy some viewers but leaves things open. After all, if the first new release of 2012 receives paranormal box-office activity, The Devil Is Still Inside is sure to follow.
Special to The Globe and Mail
THE DEVIL INSIDE
- Directed by William Brent Bell
- Screenplay by William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman
- Starring Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley
- Classification: 14A
- 2 stars