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.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.