"THE DEVIL INSIDE" — ★ — Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley, Ionut Grama; R (disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including some sexual references); in general release
The things young Isabella Rossi sees on her fateful trip to Rome! She sees bodies contort into pretzels and climb walls and fling themselves across rooms, breaking restraints as they do. She sees blood and hears all manner of blood-curdling cursing in languages familiar and foreign.
And playing her in "The Devil Inside," actress Fernanda Andrade — who is easy on the eyes — barely bats an eye. I guess she's grown up with exorcism movies, so nothing's going to shock her.
If it's January, it must be low-grade horror season. And since "The Rite" cashed in last January, why not roll out a "Blair Witch"y hand-held "We're making a documentary about my 'possessed' mother" film?
The un-emotive Andrade plays a young woman whose mother killed three members of the Catholic clergy 20 years before in an American exorcism. Somehow, she was transferred to a hospital for the criminally insane in Rome, where Isabella drags filmmaker Michael (Ionut Grama) and his many video cameras to make a movie that provides Isabella with answers.
"Is it in my genes? Am I going to flip out some day?"
She visits Mom (Suzan Crowley, very creepy) — alone, in her hospital room. And Mom, switching accents, rolling her eyes, showing off her collection of cross-cuts on her arms and lips, rattles Isabella (not that Andrade lets us see this). Isabella takes in a lecture at The Vatican School for Exorcism, which is like Hogwarts without the cool scarves. She likes the healthy skepticism there, but she takes up with a couple of young true believer priests (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) who promptly invite her and Michael along on a couple of house calls.
She doesn't take the warnings of the young Brit Ben (Quarterman) seriously.
"In all the years I've been in the church," he mutters, "I've seen the Devil way more than I've seen God!"
The priests lay out the four giveaways that you're dealing with a demonic possession and not just run-of-the-mill mental illness, signs that include "aversion to holy objects" (Bibles, crucifixes, holy water), preternatural movement and strength. And then they show her the real deal, bringing a couple of lay people into deathly dangerous situations. Honestly, Father Ben, do you think Satan is listening when you shout "I want you to leave the girl out of this?"
It's a profoundly foolish script filmed with a shaky cam, a movie that goes to great pains to explain how many cameras there are and where they're placed in a room, only to drop that conceit and show us unexplained subjective shots.
But having one exorcist be a priest and a doctor, able to bring vital signs monitors into the basement, bedroom or wherever the exorcism is to take place, adds an ER's urgency to this — sort of an "I need 400 cc's of Holy water, STAT!" effect. There are some gripping images and one hair-raising moment.
It's not enough, of course, and the ending is such a cheat that you'll be fighting back the urge to boo the closing credits.
"The Devil Inside" is rated R for disturbing violent content and grisly images, and for language including some sexual references; running time: 87 minutes.