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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Devil Inside

The Devil Inside (One Star)
U.S.: William Brent Bell, 2012
Just how bad can a movie be that grosses 34 million dollars on its first weekend? Pretty damned bad, as you’ll find out quickly if you dip into The Devil Inside — the latest entry in the found-footage horror or mocko-shockumetary sweepstakes that began in earnest with the 1999 box office success of The Blair Witch Project, and has since been responsible for The Last Exorcism, (Rec) and (Rec) 2,  Cloverfield (the one really good one), another Blair Witch project, a bunch of Paranormal Activity movies, and probably a few more cheapo gore fests you’d be a dope to pay money to see.
Visually ugly, dramatically ridiculous, thematically shoddy, psychologically inert, emotionally squalid, yet financially flabbergasting (The Devil Inside’s 34 million dollar opening weekend grosses, came for a movie budgeted at about a million), this bloody little freak show tries to squeeze The Exorcist through Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Instead it comes up with the same old jiggling- camera, screaming actor bloodbath, interspersed with baptisms, exorcism classes, and trips to the psycho ward at the Vatican hospital for the cinematically insane (with all of which the real Vatican, we’re carefully told, has nothing to do.).
In The Devil Inside, the horrors begin right away in the credits, when the movie explains that we are about to see footage mysteriously discovered, recording a series if inexplicable and mysterious events, which have left everyone who has seen this footage (carefully cut together by professional editors) in a state of inexplicable mystification. If any of you out there have any knowledge of what all this mysterious footage means, or why it was put together, or what happens in the movie, or why hordes of moviegoers paid 34 million dollars to see it last weekend (and didn’t angrily demand refunds), you are advised to immediately contact the producers of The Devil Inside — who will not refund your money but are themselves in a state of utter mystification.
The prologue also helpfully inform us that the Vatican does not believe in exorcism and had nothing to do with this picture, something that should clear up all those nasty rumors about Pope Benedict’s penchant for Dario Argento movies. Then, as we watch, breathless with terror at what the next credit-crawl will bring, Devil Inside’s director-co-writer William Brent Bell and his producer/co writer Mathew Peterman, open up with a cryptic 911 call, in which a dazed-sounding woman confesses to several murders. Then they take us on a jiggling hand-held camera tour of a sordid-looking, very disheveled house where three people lie dead, all smeared with their own blood, which also covers the walls.
This messy carnage, we‘re told, occurred after a botched exorcism resulted in the seemingly possessed Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) running amok, killing all the exorcists and then calling up 911 to summon the police and the jiggling cameraman. All that blood may sound like the movie quickly hitting its nadir, but this repulsive scene is actually one of Devil Inside’s high points, only exceeded by the double-jointed contortionist act executed by body double Pixie Le Knot.
Decades later, Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), Maria’s model-caliber daughter, sets off for Rome, under gray and cloudy skies, for an overseas visit to the Vatican university and the Vatican mental hospital — which I guess is where all the schizophrenics who think they’re the Pope wind up. She is accompanied by documentarian Michael (Ionut Grama), who has another jiggling handheld camera and follows Isabella everywhere, perhaps under the delusion that she is Isabella Rossellini. The movie’s actual cinematographer, Gonzalo Amat, seems to be following Michael with his own jiggling handheld camera, and Michael occasionally sets his camera down and photographs himself, but not Gonzalo.
Soon, amidst all this jiggling and all these gray vistas, and an occasional splatter of blood, accompanied by loud clanging noises and further mystification, Isabella hooks up with two enterprising English-speaking priests and free-lance exorcists — Simon Quaterman (Ben Rawlings) and David Keane (Evan Helmuth). They sneak her and Michael into the hospital to see Maria, where everybody endures allegedly shocking scenes of demonic possession, foul language worthy of Linda Blair‘s Regan, horrific exposition and double-jointed displays where the limber Ms. Pixie ties herself into Le Knot. (See picture below.)
It’s all pretty horrible, though not very convincing or interesting, unless you’re impressed by sordid rip-offs of The Exorcist recorded by jiggling cameras. I’d go on with this synopsis, but, hey, you know, the devil with it. Enough is enough. The Devil Inside also has a really annoying surprise ending, which isn’t even worth spoiling.
One of the advantages of this whole dopey found-footage school of horror movies, besides the fact that they‘re cheap and you reap huge profits on them, is that you can get away with bad cinematography that looks as if it was shot by amateurs, but here is tolerated because it’s supposed to look like bad photography shot by amateurs, recording the actions of non-actors, working without scripts. Therefore, the moviemakers have an alibi for everything, except the weather.
Still and all, you can’t just be a smart alec about all that money raked in by The Devil Inside. That’s a lot of moolah. Did Robert Bresson’s The Devil Probably, that French arty critics’ pet of a picture, ever gross that much? Did Josef Von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman? Did Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone? Did William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster? Did Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects? (Scratch that one.) Did Ken Russell’s The Devils? Hell no!

So much for “art.“ Maybe it’s The Devil Inside and its makers who know what audiences really want to see. Cinematography that looks amateurish. Acting that looks like non-acting. A script that seems unwritten. Contortionist acts. Mocko-Shockumentaries. Blood on the walls. Devils in the hospital. Corpses strewn hither and thither. Zombies and demons running amok. And holding it all together: jiggling camerawork and an overpowering sense of inexplicable mystification. Now, that’s entertainment!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon