The opening credits of the found-footage excretion The Devil Inside include a helpful disclaimer advising us that the Vatican “did not endorse this film nor aid in its completion ” just in case we might be inclined to believe the Holy See were in the business of making schlocky horror flicks. One’s heart goes out to Satan whose involvement in the film is pretty clearly implied by the title but who received no such disclaimer. Even he deserves better than to be associated with this dreck.
The pseudo-doc-style story centers on a young girl Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) whose mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) murdered three people twenty years prior during what was later revealed to be an exorcism gone awry. Seeking to learn more about the tragedy that consumed her mother Isabella travels to Italy where Maria is currently housed in a Vatican-run mental hospital. The doctors prove frustratingly insensitive to her mother’s affliction causing Isabella to see out a pair of young renegade exorcists (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) for help.
Maria is one creepy bird a frazzled cat-lady whose eyes blaze with penetrating high-octane craziness even under heaviest of sedation. An early scene in which Isabella meets with her near-catatonic mother and gently tries to ascertain whether her insanity is of the conventional or demonically-inspired variety oozes tension as we wait for her whispered ramblings to explode into full-on Satanic mania. It’s a terrifically fraught scene by far the best in the film and sadly the only point in which we ever come close to being scared.
The film proffers a variety of different narrative threads and chooses to resolve none of them. What happened to the English priest’s uncle or Isabella’s baby? And what of that poor possessed gal with the hemorrhaging vagina? Was she ever able to get that under control? God only knows. Even crazy-eyes Maria the film’s MVP makes an all-too-hasty exit never to be hear from again after a half-baked exorcism attempt.
Director/co-writer William Brent Bell’s clear aim is to mimic the wildly successful Paranormal Activity films but he ignores the found-footage standard-bearer’s most important precept which is to keep the story simple rely as little on the “actors” as possible and pile on the cheap scares one after another. Instead we’re handed an abundance of character details we never asked for and which never really amount to anything save for some choice over-acting in the third act when the devil’s machinations turn everyone against each other. The film devolves into a kind of exorcism-themed Real World episode replete with “confessionals” in which the characters tearfully air their frustrations -- as if we gave a damn. Perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t because The Devil Inside concludes with what might be the least-satisfying horror ending in a decade.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.