The meshing of the exorcism film with the found footage flick is a collaboration of genres that could work as well as any other, I suppose. Funny then that I haven’t seen one that I’ve remotely enjoyed, until this weekend, that is.
In The Devil Inside, Isabella, the subject of a would-be documentary, travels to Rome to see her mother for the first time in 20 years. Her mother, you see, has been kept in an insane asylum since murdering three people decades ago while they conducted an exorcism on her. But instead of letting that be the basis of the movie, the film goes on countless deviations and opens limitless subplots that add nothing and go virtually nowhere.
Soon after Isabella meets two priests who conduct illegal exorcisms without the church’s permission, we follow them as they perform an exorcism on a girl, and then we never see that girl again. We listen to Isabella threaten the cameraman by exposing his lies, then they’re never brought up. One of the priests has a dark, mysterious past that is hinted at, but never discussed. Isabella’s failed pregnancy is mentioned exhaustively, but never used as a plot point.
Basically, The Devil Inside spends much of its 87 minutes opening doors it has no intention of closing. Its attempts to frighten only manage to puzzle. It is a laughably failed horror film that achieves nothing the genre has to offer. And it’s also a whopping success, so, good job America.
I had heard good things about The Last Exorcism when it was released last year. I remembered being surprised by its two Independent Spirit Awards nominations, and wondering if this PG-13 rated flick was worth the hype. Then I forgot all about it.
Late last evening, after finding it on Netflix, I started it as a flimsy means to make up for the time I wasted on The Devil Inside. And I’m damn glad I did.
In The Last Exorcism, two documentary filmmakers follow an evangelical minister as he attempts to perform what he declares his final exorcism. The catch is, Reverend Cotton Marcus is a complete fraud. He doesn’t believe in demons, he doesn’t believe in exorcisms, and since his son was born, he’s started to question his faith in God. And this is how The Last Exorcism hooks you instantly: it manages to put a fresh spin on a wasted idea.
Cross cutting Reverend Marcus performing an exorcism with clips of how he plans to stage that exorcism, is ingenious. He is, in effect, a magician revealing his tricks. He knows that exorcisms are complete nonsense. So what happens when the faker comes head to head with someone who isn’t faking? I’m not going to reveal much, but trust when I say that poor Nell Sweetzer’s frequent bouts of sleepwalking are far more complicated than that.
The Last Exorcism is the exact opposite of The Devil Inside. It’s effective on every level: its humor (yeah, the movie is genuinely hilarious when it wants to be), its terror, and its ability to successfully tackle real life problems (incest is discussed, torture is hinted at, etc.). Let me sum it up this way: I do not get scared in movies easily, in fact, it is very difficult for a film to even remotely frighten me. And to say that I was freaked the hell out during The Last Exorcism is to exercise a great deal of modesty.
One of the reasons found footage films often fail is because they have no idea how to end their story. Something lunges at the camera and it cuts to black. That’s not an ending, that’s a shameless ploy for a sequel. The Devil Inside cements this notion, The Last Exorcism throws it on its head. One film is an aimless, unresolved mess that thinks special effects equate to fright, while the other is perfectly able to standalone as a superb piece of modern horror filmmaking. No tricks needed: its story is scary enough. The Devil Inside: D; The Last Exorcism: B+.