Friday, January 13, 2012

Ten Statements About.... THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012)

Ladies and Gentlemen--the most persuasive argument for
buying a Posturpedic bed....
"Do you know how to connect the cuts?"

1) Ahhhh, found footage, we meet again....and once more I find you wanting as an effective way to tell a story. The artifice of the found footage conceit keeps getting in the way of any sort of narrative flow this story has.

2) But here is something very positive about this film--it takes pains to set up its world, present its rules and, most importantly, sticks to them. The only moment where the continuity of this story doesn't quite make sense is with a factor that occurs before the story itself takes place, so the film's logic is not disrupted much. And to be fair, I may be the only person who caught this contradiction.

3) ...but then, I'm the only person in this very empty theater who I suspect was listening closely enough to figure out what was happening; the dopey young man who started shouting at the screen 'This is whack' when the film was over didn't. The script by director William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterson has a very clear idea of where they're going and takes the time to lay the groundworks for the trip they want to take us on meticulously. However, these pieces of information that leads us through the narrative are frequently badly submerged by the soundmix, vital clues said in such a whisper as to be unintelligible.

4) And I have great respect for the fact that even though the film wants to be subtle, it doesn't shirk on Showing Us The Monkey. There are three key scenes that are pure special effects laden monster-show-ness, and there are some beats in those scenes which manages to wonderfully blend subtle with brash at the same time. However....

Sometimes, you have bad hair days, but...YE GODS!
5) ...that damn CGI fly. In the middle of what is arguably the film's highpoint, we get a fake green fly escaping from Suzan Crowley's Maria's mouth and making a b-line for Evan Helmuth's David. What's insane is that the script makes the big turning point in the film clear through dialogue and narrative cues both before and after that scene, making the freaking fly pointless.

6) Wow, Mr. Bell....there's that key scene where you make it clear that David is going to drown that baby during a baptism, and you work it out so that you're going 'no, you won', you won' you--MY GOD YOU DID'....except you wimp out and give us that dialogue that tells us the baby's okay. It cheats the audience, makes them feel stupid for thinking you were actually going to do, and ultimately makes them uninterested in investing in all the scares that follows thereafter.

7) Here's another fundamental problem with the film--of the four main characters, one (Fernanda Andrade's Isabella) is played by a woman who has appeared on a number of high profile TV shows, one in a recurring role. Another (Simon Quarterman's Ben) has an equally large career, albeit more in the indie film realm. Throughout the film, I had a nagging feeling I had seen Isabella before, and that continued to put me at arm's length. One of the basic rules of found footage is that you need actors we don't recognize, and having one of the central actors being so easily recognizable defeats the purpose of making it a found footage film in the first place.

"What do I wanna do?  I don't know...bum around, drown an
infant, become possessed by an honking big demon and then
committing about you?"
8) Another thing about this film--everyone has a certain Caucasian Wankery Network feel to them, especially Ben and Isabella. Of all the found footage films I have watched, the characters within them that feel the most real to me--Lizzy Kaplan's Marlene in Cloverfield, Katy Featherstone's Katy in Paranormal Activity, even Heather O'Donoghue's Heather in The Blair Witch Project--worked because they didn't look like actors, but like real, recognizable people. I'm not saying these men and women are too pretty--both Kaplan and Featherstone were very attractive and sexy in their way--but they don't have the feeling of being the kind of people you could see on the street. It's another small strike against the film that makes it fall short of success.

9) Not surprisingly, the most effective person at selling the film's found footage pedigree is Suzan Crowley, who plays Isabella's mother and the source of two of the three big shock scenes. It's not for nothing that her face is the central image of the film's poster. She is very effective in playing a woman who could be insane, could be possessed, and more importantly, she not only looks like she could have given birth to Isabella, she looks like a normal human being.

10) You know....I really have to wonder if the film's biggest sin is its stubborn insistence in sticking to the found footage meme. So many of the film's flaws that I cite above could easily have been solved by abandoning that already dubious genre and embracing the script's obvious desire to be a full on, conventional narrative horror film.

Overall...not the worst found footage film I've seen, and not a good film overall, but one I can at least put in the 'Ambitious Failure' bin. The simple fact is its pedigree drags it down, and I almost wish it could have been done as a full on narrative film.

I saw this at the AMC Village Seven with three other people, one of which laughed at strange times, and the other two chose to carry on a running conversation--one of which was the abovemention man who went off on a rant about how awful he felt the film was. Most of the trailers were ones I already saw before, save for G.I. Joes: Retribution (which, as much as I liked the dumb fun of the first film, may actually surpass it--even if just because we see The Rock firing a big gun and Bruce Willis mowing down people from a pick-up truck) and Gone (which I may end up seeing, because the idea of Amanda Seyfried running around Seattle in pursuit of her sister's kidnapper, yelling and shooting all the way, appeals to me).

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