Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Devil in Ms. Johnson

I love the found-footage horror genre. I think you should love it too. And part of that love involves recognizing when it's time to take one of these films behind the barn and put it out of its misery...

The Devil Inside is just begging for a trip behind the barn. It probably never had a chance, as it tries to mix the current Paranormal Activity style with the classic Exorcist. And in the process, it can only present the worst of both.

See, back when The Exorcist came out, the country hadn't suffered through decades of Protestant hooey mucking up everyone's daily lives. Religion at the time, especially Catholicism, had this nice alien quality that added to the horror of demonic possession. Because there's always more horror to be found in The Other and director William Friedkin was irreverent enough to maintain a degree of mystery and ambiguity about the story.

He also smacked a priest around. Because Friedkin don't give a shit!

And that's where The Devil Inside fails right out of the gate - it presents the Christian cosmology as a definite. The rest of the film is then just the main Everywoman getting to grips with this Truth in time for the finale.

Now that still wouldn't make for a bad film. Everyone likes a good crisis of faith. But she gets two sidekicks - Father Limey and Father Balding - who act as evangelical cheerleaders. The main thrust of the film feels less "Booh!" and more "Come to Jaysus!" as these two dildos - and anyone else to appear onscreen with a white collar - repeats the old saw about how science doesn't have all the answers so there. It's obnoxious and it's just not representative of the long intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church.

I had hopes for some ambiguity early on during an "official" exorcism class in Rome. The priest leading the discussion even played devil's advocate - hardy har har - by pointing out all the various mental disturbances that could appear to be possession. I particularly liked that every reference to multiple personalities used the correct clinical definition of Dissociative Identity Disorder. But it all falls apart as Everywoman and her Laurel and Hardy exorcists faff about trying to use video of Mama Everywoman as proof to the Vatican that demonic possession exists. They also win her over by exorcizin' a girl they had locked up in their basement.

Which I admit made sense for this character...

I'd still like to see the old '70s possession story done in the new found footage style. The Devil Inside isn't that, because for all it's effort it only manages to shout "The power of Christ compels you!" at the audience. This is America, we've got enough Christ.

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