JANUARY 6, 2012
Last night I complained about a giant chunk of my twitter feed essentially spoiling the ending of The Devil Inside (one of the offenders even asked “who” had done it, as if he wasn’t guilty), but after seeing it I realized they had inadvertently done me a service of sorts – maybe if I wasn’t prepared for it I would have been just as angry as they were, but it didn’t bother me, and I was able to more or less enjoy the flick with a few reservations, as opposed to downright hate it as many of them seemed to (haven’t read their reviews, but as with many of my peers, they seemingly wrote half of it in 140 character bursts).
Note – I will talk around the actual ending, but if you’re not on Twitter and haven’t heard anything else, you should choose whether or not to read on – you might be costing yourself some good ol’ fashioned indignation!
So basically, their problem is that the movie just cuts out at a point where it seems like a big climax is about to begin, before an on-screen epilogue tells you to visit a website and then an Asylum-esque SLOOOOOOOOW end credits sequence begins, which means this 85 minute movie is actually a 75 minute one. But I think the real problem isn’t the actual ending itself – it’s that the ad campaign focused on a subplot that is left unresolved, which makes the movie understandably feel incomplete. If you stand back and look at the movie as a whole, you realize that it’s actually about the two documentarians and the two priests they follow around – not the girl’s mother, and thus the fact that the mom’s story isn’t satisfyingly concluded isn’t THAT big of a deal – she was only in two or three scenes! The fates of the four real main characters are definitely resolved, so it's got one up on Last Exorcism.
Also, how I managed to watch TWO movies this week with misleading trailers, I have no idea. Can we PLEASE try to market the movies truthfully? If they’re not easy to sum up in two minute (or less) spots, that just means they are more interesting and less generic. Embrace that, don’t hide it.
Like last year’s underrated (but similarly flawed) The Rite, the movie is more about the exorcists than the ones possessed. Our actual heroes are a pair of priests who engage in “rogue exorcisms” when they feel they are warranted but are forbidden to act upon them by the church. The church doesn’t just do an exorcism for anyone who claims they’re possessed – they must undergo strenuous investigation and evaluation and get approved by the higher-ups (not the pope – that’d be kind of awesome though), and our guys rightfully think they’re too strict. However – and this is what the movie is actually about – they might have a point about being so strict, as we learn that maybe had our protagonists just left well enough alone, a lot fewer people would be dead. Certainly, a movie with the message “Maybe the church is right” isn’t going to go over well with everyone.
But it’s also an independently produced horror movie being put on thousands of screens by Paramount, which means that it’s another found footage movie (two of THOSE this week too!). The other two main characters are the ones making a documentary; Michael the camera operator isn’t seen too much (but plays more of a part than say, the guy who filmed [Rec]’s events), and our heroine, Isabella, whose mother is in an institution after a suspected possession. They’re not quite as interesting as Ben and David the priests, but it creates an interesting dynamic, with everyone having clashing goals: Isabella wants to help her mom, Michael wants to make a movie, Ben wants to prove himself right to the church, and David just seemingly wants everyone to be at peace. So many found footage movies lack genuine conflict amongst the characters beyond squabbling about whatever is happening at the time (Mike throwing away the map, for example), it’s nice to have that extra bit of dimensionality for a change.
In fact, as with the far more problematic Apollo 18, I’d argue that the verite approach is a handicap in some ways. Along with the constant “stop filming” issue (partially solved with a bunch of mounted cameras inside their car – a goofy workaround to say the least), the genre has become overcrowded – this is actually the 3rd or 4th “found footage” exorcism movie – and thus the audience has grown accustomed to cheap jump shocks (which the film offers, though not too many) in place of the more story and character-based horror that the film is actually going for. Also, the shaki-cam might turn off the older viewers who might be more interested in this kind of story (granted it was midnight, but I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person in the fairly packed crowd). That said, they did a fine job of recreating 1980s style news footage, and even left a couple of moments off-screen to keep up the realism – if they caught EVERYTHING of note it would be ridiculous. Also, without spoiling its actual contents, the anger over the ending is overclouding that it’s a terrific mini-setpiece in its own right, nearly justifying the choice to go with found footage on its own.
As with other religious (read: Catholic) based horror movies I’ve watched, I think my upbringing may also contribute to why I enjoyed it more than most. 200 days of the year I spent 6-7 hours a day looking at the icons and images, hearing about miracles and damnation and the Devil and whatever else. And then every Sunday (or Saturday afternoon) I’d be taken out of my preferred element – sitting around playing video games or watching horror movies, usually – to listen to a sermon and read about the same sort of stuff. Even though I don’t think about it too much anymore, you can’t spend that much time being exposed to something without it leaving an impression (especially during one’s formative years), so perhaps I just have a subconscious attachment to this sort of material. I mean, I’d probably really enjoy a horror movie that took place in the fascinating world of end credits design, too.
But to be fair, the movie DOES drop the ball in a few areas. In addition to the mother, there's another subplot regarding the Ben character that is left unexplained, and given the movie's super-short runtime I can't help but wonder if these elements (which would be dialogue driven) were excised in favor of a version that got to the scares more often. They also don't do enough with the "exorcism school" - a few more scenes there might have helped explain why Ben and David were so driven to go against their practices. In fact, I'd still love to see a whole movie centered around this exorcism school - even if it was a straight up drama, I think it would be kind of fascinating, seeing these guys train for a job that their superiors don't actually want them to do (but there's a dog-based jump scare! Can't get enough of those!).
However, I found a lot more here to like than not, so even with its problems I'd still count it as a win. It’s less schlocky than the trailers had led me to believe, and again, those same trailers are more to blame for the negative response (nearly the entire theater booed) than the film itself, which like Blair Witch Project tries to spin a new mythology in which the film is only part of the story (to a much less successful extent, admittedly). If you’ve read this far, I think you should check out the www.therossifiles.com site BEFORE you see the movie, as it gives you some back-story to the characters and some other little tidbits, but doesn’t actually “follow” anything from the film as the on-screen text seems to suggest. THEN go see the movie and make up your own mind!
What say you?
P.S. Kudos to Paramount for picking up another indie and giving it a wide release – I would love to see this sort of thing more often. Given that the film recouped its entire production budget just from the midnight screenings, perhaps we will. Get your as-yet undistributed indie movies in good shape, fellas!