Retro Review: THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012){0}

You may recall a terrible horror flick from a few years back called Stay Alive. It was a very typical slasher flick copycat that showed up at the tail-end of another slasher cycle. That happens a lot to rip-offs: they arrive just a bit too late to steal much money. That forgettable film came from the writing/directing team of Matthew Peterman and William Brent Bell, a duo that promptly vanished once Stay Alive hit the screens. But now Matt and Will are back, and they’re up to the exact same trick: copycatting something that was popular over a year ago, and doing a really terrible job of it. Their shamelessly derivative The Devil Inside is nothing more than generic and tiresome concepts stolen whole from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and, of course, The Exorcist.

Paramount Pictures, for their part, simply wanted another cheap acquisition to see if they could catch the Paranormal Activity lightning in a bottle one more time, but there’s one big problem: Paranormal Activity is smart, fun, and novel. Moviegoers, and not just horror fans, told their friends that the flick was a lot of fun. That’s how it made such huge money and spawned (at least) three sequels. The Devil Inside will not have people talking, unless “holy hell, what a piece of crap” is the sort of discussion the filmmakers want. Frankly I think Mr. Peterman and Mr. Bell like horror films as much as I like asparagus; they’re cynically dabbling in this genre like a clueless fisherman casts a line and then blindly hopes for a bonanza.

So we’re back in “found footage” (or “mockumentary”) country, and this time we’re following two idiots and two young idiot priests who are in Rome to dig up the old mysteries about one of the idiot’s mothers, who was reportedly possessed by the devil in the goofy prologue. In between way too many scenes of bad actors reciting painful exposition droplets, we occasionally get down to some horror. Act III in particular is pretty much slathered in outrageously familiar (if partially energetic) lunacy, but in order to get to the final moments of payoff, you have to suffer through long presentations of remedial-level lectures about demonic possession (as if the audience hasn’t seen the movies that The Devil Inside is Xeroxing), the grating activities of four thoroughly unlikable characters, more bad “handheld shaky-cam” than any professional film should ever exhibit, and some of the stupidest dialogue in years. Not just that the movie’s characters are stupid, but also that the movie thinks you’re stupid. (Take note of the insipid “foreshadowing” that takes place – guess where – in a college lecture hall.)

A low-rent and lazy affair that inexplicably found a supporter in one of Hollywood’s biggest distributors, The Devil Inside indicates that Bell and Peterman hit the jackpot by playing the copycat game — and that’s kind of a shame. One shudders to think of how many worthwhile horror films Paramount passed up to acquire this terribly drab junkpile, but I hope it makes just enough money to keep the studio interested in indie-style horror. Maybe their acquisitions department will (randomly) pick a good horror flick next time out.