By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – This is a satanic stunt movie, impure and simple. But as stunt movies go, it’s pretty effective.
Yeah, well, between you and me, no moviegoer is safe with demonic possession flicks if at least part of the way to their ferocious conclusions, they get under your skin.
And until a very questionable climax that will leave some viewers feeling shortchanged, The Devil Inside does some hellacious chillin’.
It’s a spooky supernatural horror thriller set in Italy — “inspired by true events” — about a woman named Isabelle, played by Fernanda Andrade, who becomes involved with a series of exorcisms as part of her investigation into just what happened to her mother, who allegedly murdered three people while under the influence of a demon’s possession.
According to reports, on a day in 1989, a woman named Maria Rossi, played by Suzan Crowley, made a 911 call and reported that she had committed three brutal murders — of two priests and a nun — while an exorcism was being performed on her.
Declared not guilty by reason of insanity, she was subsequently locked away in the Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane in the Holy Church in Rome.
Twenty years later, her twenty-something daughter Isabelle, afraid that a similar fate may await her and wanting to find out whether her mother was mentally ill or demonically possessed, searches for someone who can help her and perhaps her mother.
Accompanied by her filmmaker friend, Michael (Ionut Grama), a documentarian who intends to record her experience, she travels to Rome and engages two young rogue priests, exorcists played by Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth, to use their unconventional methods to determine whether or not her mother was indeed possessed by not just one demon, but an unprecedented four.
What she and her film crew discover is that Maria’s possession is like nothing else in the history of Christianity, with intimations of concepts like “multiple demonic possession” and “possession transference.”
Director and co-writer (with Matthew Peterman) William Brent Bell (Stay Alive, Sparkle and Charm) employs a cinema verite shooting style on digital video that’s in the now-familiar fake documentary/found footage realm, and manages to deliver ghastly goings-on that are nightmarishly gripping, with a fair share of genuine shocks and scares.
Supernatural chillers about possession with the power disturb, like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and even The Rite rarely traffic in three-dimensional character delineation — and neither does The Devil Inside, which exhibits very little interest in the mother-daughter bond that is embedded in the film’s basic premise.
But the mandate here is to use that single scare-the-hell-out-of-’em dimension to make us claw the armrest and look away — as this latest trip to the dark side does, with several lengthy stretches of excruciating suspense.
So we’ll exorcise 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the goose-pimply thriller, The Devil Inside, a devilishly disturbing dose of demonic-possession dread.