(Just so’s you know. Horror movies on premiere nights must be marketed to drunk college asshats who seem to think they’re in Mystery Science Theater. But I’ve endured it again. For you guys. You know. Cuz I’m the hero you need. And deserve. (What? Think the Batman joke is getting old? I’m still being your hero. That doesn’t just stop. (Even Batman stays Gotham’s deserved hero eight years later. (Spoiler). Hell. Even after he’s dead. (Bigger spoiler). (well, maybe. We’ll see in July).
So, Devil Inside.
Another possession movie with a promising start, another possession movie with a letdown finish. (Sex joke there? I think so. Let this be a lesson to you, never get involved with possessed people. Venkman knew what the hell he was talking about)
Turns out the movie was a bit more found footage style than I’d suspected from the trailer’s mash up of styles, but in a way that immediately set a fine standard, blending the found footage with a pseudo-documentary style that established a commentary on the story early on, reflecting on such issues as hereditary illnesses, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, whether possession is a reality or a mental disorder, and as always, the layperson discovering a kind of hidden world. Symbols to boot too. Our first solid glimpse at an exorcism is in the basement of a family’s home.
But as is seemingly too typical of the genre, the writers are quickly possessed with the demons they’re scribbling and drop the ball (maybe not on their foot as hard as the Last Exorcism, but they do their best (though, gauging by the audience reaction as the credits faded in, they might disagree with me, but I think abrupt endings aren’t nearly as ridiculous as shark-jumping). The movie never takes off in the same was that the Rite or Last Exorcism never took off.
If you’re a fan of very visual and violent scares from something otherworldly, you’ll probably be a fan. If exorcism movies are your thing, you’ll be fine. If you dug the paranormal activity movies, there’s a bit of everything to go around in this one, (only with the violence ratcheted up to oh, eleven).
But I think my biggest problem is here–and continues to be–that my hopes for these movies is not in some critical fantasy, some ideal that’s unable to be matched. With women, perhaps, but here I’ve seen it. Movies to me aren’t purely emotional experiences, but intellectual experiences, and a good story is not one designed to evoke a single emotion, but to elicit a wide range, most borne on the deeper layers, so that the more you probe the movie, the more you probe into your own ethical, philosophical, political, emotional, and spiritual levels. I don’t think this is too much to ask, to demand. I just want a fucking good story. That’s why you’re paid in the tens of thousands of dollars. Or more.
Sure, horror movies are good for evoking a fright the same way that comedies these days are good for a laugh (two if you’re lucky), but lowering the bar shouldn’t be justification. You can still have a frightening movie with a strong story, thematic arches, narrative dialogue, and cosmological conflict. Hell, Black Swan, one of my most loved movies was damn frightening and it’s just a drama.
Maybe my problem is furthered, and my soap box too easily assembled, when we’re set up for something that could be brilliant. That the pieces were there. There was depth here. You’ve introduced it. you’ve shown us your palette of paint, now doodle us a happy little tree.
You, writers of Devil Inside, provide us your elements. We’ve got potential for discussion of whether or not demons can be passed through family lines the same way as is said of sin, starting in the Garden of Eden, or the same way pathological issues can be passed from parent to child. What about the hypocrisy of the Church? What’s the line between right and wrong? What of politics? When is the necessity for governing structure more important than helping people? And what about the faith of the exorcist? You can’t tell me that wasn’t one of the crucial elements when you introduce two rebel exorcists who are trying to do God’s work while not operating fully with the Church. I mean, possession in the West right now is fundamentalist religious fodder. If you deny your overarching religion, how are you supposed to combat its enemies? Are you one of them, an enemy, for disagreeing with the doctrine alone? That’s a big issue! Our demon here never even mentioned it.
It’s like the writers were skimming along in Martin’s Hostage to the Devil and failed to understand the dramatic significance of a crisis of faith in the face of Satan himself in favor of “oh look! Demons can jump from person to person! That’ll be the exciting core of our movie, cuz that’s never been done before!” (Meanwhile Denzel Washington and John Goodman are all like HELL NAW.)
The formula is provided for a discussion that could push a thematic and political arc through the interviews that structure the beginning of the movie. The debates can continue beyond the classroom scene. It worked for Danielewski in House of Leaves and Langan’s House of Windows. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to analyze your frights. It can amplify it if done right. Indeed, this is the point of documentary filmmaking, to study different opinions by literate people. It makes it more real, not only in feel and character, but within ourselves as moviegoers. But thirty minutes in, these interviews are dropped in favor of Blair-Witch Eqsue confessions. Which, yes, serve their own purpose, and chronicle the decay of the movie and characters, but hey, let’s not decay what’s truly working at the same time.
(Okay, spoiler in that this isn’t what happened, yes), but why couldn’t you end the movie with even a monologue from one of the possessed characters? This alone would be more satisfying than what we were left with, but it also would break that fourth wall and bring the movie to the audience. What more perfect way to end a documentary-style movie? “Interview” the demon last. Leave words from the darkness hanging for the folks at home.
I’ve been on my soapbox, indeed. But time after time, hollywood is churning out these possession movies in a culture of Saw and Paranormal Activity filmgoers, stringing us along with half-cocked films like Last Exorcism and the Rite, and they expect that scares alone should be the bar, and that’s bullshit. Horror, possession, exorcism, a clash of ideologies that isn’t a sermon or an editorial is refreshing, exciting, and can be downright terrifying. The genre is so ripe that the possibilities just leak from the script before a screaming, torn up woman rolls her eyes into her head and the special effects crew gets giddy over a swinging POV shot.
I’m not going to stop seeing these movies because I think it’s not that hard to continue a discussion, and I have to believe somebody will finally do it. But it’s damn frustrating to keep spending my money on it.
But I want to know what you guys think, too. Are you content with the scares? Would it ruin your movie-going experience to have a little depth with your scares? Would that even amplify it? Am I wrong here? Is there nothing wrong with genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie too if you go see it, too. Lemme know in the comments below!