It's not really fair how obvious some mistakes look in retrospect.
If you're trying to prove the strength of your skyscraper's windows by flinging yourself against one, and then it breaks and you plunge hundreds of feet to your doom, well, you can't begrudge a few jokes at your funeral. Likewise when you sign the director's contract with M. Night Shyamalan.
Other errors in judgment aren't really howlingly obvious until after the fact. Thinking the Mariners might be decent this year. That ninth drink that convinces you that now is the time to learn parkour. And in the case of the new documentary-style horror flick The Devil Inside, who could have guessed that ending without an ending would make viewers feel like they'd wasted their time?
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In 1989, Suzan Crowley murdered three people in the middle of an exorcism and was sent to an institution for the criminally insane in Rome. Twenty years later, her daughter Fernanda Andrade wants to know what happened that day.
With a documentarian in tow to help find her answers, she quickly comes upon rogue exorcists Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth, who believe Crowley may still be possessed. But the force inside her may be beyond anything they've ever experienced.
The Devil Inside was pitched to studio heads as "The Exorcist meets Paranormal Activity." I haven't read that anywhere, but I can claim it with utter certainty, because a) it totally was and b) the only reason not to pitch it that way is if you're embarrassed about just how much it borrows from those two movies. It's as if director/co-writer William Brent Bell scooped the two movies up in a jar together and then shook the jar until the two movies fought. When the dust, bits of wing and spindly little legs settled down, what was leftover was The Devil Inside.
Nonetheless, shameless theft doesn't lead to automatic failure. That requires an automated failing device. But The Devil Inside has a flaw that would cripple the most original of ideas: its protagonist is boring. Andrade's character is so spectacularly dull I can only conclude she responded to the early deaths of her parents by becoming so totally uninteresting that no one on earth could ever again love and thus abandon her again.
On the other hand, who needs a personality when you're a hot Brazilian lady.
Not that the rest of the writing is much better. Much of the exposition is naked as a Lohan — do you think the one fact the exorcist-professor tells his class could wind up the key to what Andrade's facing? — and Bell gratefully steals Paranormal Activity's trick of tossing out single lines of backstory to explain huge tracts of his characters' histories. With these helpful tidbits, we now have one and sometimes even two pieces of the puzzle per character. I believe the completed puzzle is a picture of a yawning face.
Despite these lead weights, The Devil Inside works up some momentum by its mid-late sections. With the rules of possession and exorcism established (kind of a rarity for exorcist flicks) and the team tearing around Rome instead of confined to the grimy beds where these things typically take place (I have it on good authority demons hate down pillows), it feels like we may wind up mildly entertained after all.
Then The Devil Inside ends. I mean, it just stops. Abruptly. So abruptly I think our collective audience reaction was best summarized by a man a few rows behind me when he declared "Oh, hell no!"
Insanely, the pre-credits then inform us to visit the movie's Web site if we'd like to learn more. I guess I can see where they're coming from. Publishers have found tremendous success in tearing their books in half, then slapping the last remaining page with a Post-it note informing the reader that the end can be found on a record at your local music store. It just makes sense.
Wait, people want complete stories from their stories? Wait. Then The Devil Inside might be awful.