When there's a movie I really want to see, I avoid reading reviews like the Bubonic. I refuse to taint my experience with any expectations other than the ones I've formed myself based on the trailer, the cast, and the filmmakers. On Saturday night, I shelled out my $8.50 to see The Devil Inside not expecting much. When I walked out of the theatre a few hours later, my stomach was in knots, I felt the beginnings of a panic attack, and a maniacal grin was splitting my head practically in two. In other words, I was peaking on a good horror movie buzz.
Imagine my surprise, shortly after composing my gushing love letter of a review for The Devil Inside, to discover that pretty much every other human being was matched in a lockstep of hatred and disdain for the film. And it wasn't just the uppity, holier-than-thou film critics. It was damn near every other horror blogger I read. WTF blogosphere?
Thing is, reading through a stack of bile-spewing reviews, I found myself agreeing with much of what they said was wrong with the movie. The difference was, I figured "well, this and this could have been better, but the good parts more than made up for it" while everyone else was like "this and this totally ruined the movie." So, for the record, yes, the ending was extremely abrupt, anticlimactic, and disappointing. But it wasn't at all out of line in terms of the story. And okay, ending with a URL was tasteless and gimmicky. I can't argue with that. But after my initial disappointment faded and I rewound the film in my head, I was really kind of blown away.
Here's what I liked about The Devil Inside:
The Possessed - The actresses who played Maria Rossi and Rosa, the two main possessed women in the film, were incredible. The erattic sedated-to-manic behavior of Maria is unnerving, and when her daughter enters the room with her, it creates this trip-wire tension and a real sense of danger. I was watching with clenched fists, just waiting to see what kind of violently crazy shit she'd pull.
The Exorcism Scenes - People complained that everything in the exorcism scenes was stolen from other movies, The Exorcist in particular. But couldn't you say the same about every other exorcism movie ever made? That's the problem with film genres that were spawned by a single movie. You can't watch a zombie film without defining it in terms of Night of the Living Dead. The Exorcist created the conventions for the exorcism film, and every film within the genre will be measured by how it conforms to or departs from those conventions. That said, The Devil Inside is a very conventional exorcism film, using the well-established elements of bodily contortions, levitation, distorted voices, and obscenity-packed blaspheming. So yeah, you're not seeing anything new, but you're seeing it in a new way, and for the most part, better than it's been done before.
The Effects - Let's be honest, as much as Linda Blair's 180 degree head-rotation scared us all pissless back in the day, it looks pretty hokey in 2012. But the effects in The Devil Inside are seamless and utterly convincing. While some had to be computer enhanced (though damned if I could tell which ones they were), one of the film's main assets was human-special effect Bonnie Morgan. And sure, she got hired because she can twist her body into unbelievable knots, but the girl can really act too. While critics dog-piled on the film's faux-documentary style as what was wrong with the movie, I thought it was essential to its success. There's something incredibly scary about putting convincing special effects into a lo-fi digital video.
I think the main problem is that people are just burned out on found footage, shaky camera fare. I'm convinced that if this movie had come out 5 years ago, it would have been hailed as a genre classic. As it is, a lot of people reported the movie wasn't the least bit scary. And if you go into a movie with an attitude like, "Okay motherfucker, scare me. I dare you," almost nothing will. You see, there's a correct way to watch a horror film, and it involves meeting the movie halfway. For me, I do my damnedest to place myself in the vulnerable position of the protagonists, leaving myself open to being scared. I crave the fear, the tension. And I want to like every movie I watch, and when I don't, it's not for lack of trying on my part.
In this respect, The Devil Inside had me at Hello. When I was a kid, The Exorcist really did a number on me, and movies about demonic possession have a pre-burrowed route to getting under my skin. But that's the point - no matter how much critics pretend that movies can be evaluated objectively, each individual's movie experience is deeply personal and depends on all kinds of factors from your personal history to who you saw it with to what your mood was like the day you saw it. So, maybe The Devil Inside wasn't as great as I thought. Maybe I was simply excited to have two child-free hours to engage in my favorite pasttime. Who knows? But I had a great time with it. Likewise, maybe it wasn't as bad as the critics and bloggers would have you believe. Don't trust them. Don't trust me. Just try to watch the movie without expectations.