'The Devil Inside' Review: Haunted By Ghosts of Past Possession Flicks

Up until recently, demonic possession movies had the hardest of all acts to follow – the 1973 classic “The Exorcist.”

How can you possible top the sight of Regan spitting pea soup and spinning her head like a top?

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The 2010 chiller “The Last Exorcism” managed to make the possessed genre feel new again thanks to two terrific performances (Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell) and the faux documentary format.

That leaves “The Devil Inside” to grapple with not only the long shadows cast by both films but standard horror film expectations. Suffice to say it fails to measure up on all counts, even though the sight of possessed people writhing in agony remains an oddly addictive thrill for horror movie nuts.

“The Devil Inside” starts with the brutal slaying of three clergy members by a seemingly benign woman. The killer’s daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), suffers with the knowledge that her mother is a monster, but over the years she comes to believe her mother may have acted out because she was in the grip of a demon.

So Isabella jets to Rome to visit the Vatican and get a few lessons in Possession 101.

She meets with a pair of exorcist specialists, a duo that hardly inspires confidence with their bumbling. But Isabella’s education on the dangerous nature of possession has only just begun.

“Devil” hops aboard the latest horror movie bandwagon – the same faux documentary format that worked so well in “The Last Exorcism.” It’s a gimmick only slightly more refined than the found footage material seen in the “Paranormal Activity” films, but the device only works if there’s a tightly realized narrative afoot.

We never really get to know, or care about, Isabella’s plight, although Andrade still manages to inspire some compassion by delivering a performance better than the material in play.

The best scene arrives early, as Isabella visits her mother in an asylum for the first time in years. Poor Mum (Suzan Crowley) goes through the usual, “I’m possessed and suddenly I’m far more flexible than I’ve ever been” gyrations, but it’s the panicked look in the woman’s eyes that sells the moment.

Those possessed sequences are the sole reason to seek out “The Devil Inside.” Everything else feels perfunctory, as if even the filmmakers had lost interest in the reasons why we’re moving from one set piece to the next. The film takes a few loping jabs at the Catholic Church, but mostly over the bureaucracy within the Vatican.

“The Devil Inside” doesn’t unearth a pebble of new ground within the possession sub-genre, but anyone who still gets a thrill seeing actors contort their bodies and seemingly defy the laws of physics while under Beelzebub’s spell may get a thrill or two out of this “Devil.”