Immense strength, screams in different voices, unnaturally curved limbs, wry face, agony, convulsions, unconscious self-injury and physical abuse of others, furious attacks and behavior that resembles a wild beast rather than a conscious human being – these are only some features of the severe human disorder observed through many centuries. People in suchlike condition committed horrible things and posed a threat for themselves and for the people around. Is it a mental disease that makes one push own personality down to the bottom of one’s mind and entrust control over own body to other individuals produced by sick consciousness? Or perhaps there is something inside the person, some supernatural force invisible for the human eye that conquers mind and imprisons soul to turn one into own slave? In fact, the film entitled The Devil Inside tries to answer the questions mentioned above. Introduced on big screens in January 2012, the movie disclosed the phenomenon of exorcism and occupied top positions during the first week of broadcast. The Devil Inside belongs to pseudo-documental fiction with the elements of horror and thriller. The plotline is based on the story of a young woman, who tries to save her mother that is considered to be possessed by the demons. The actions take place in Italy and they are focused on the discovery of the possession and the rituals of expulsion of evil spirits. The choice of pseudo-documentary style with found-footage filming contributes to the realistic atmosphere; the natural play of actors and skillful tricks evoke contemplations regarding the presence of supernatural in our life. However, the film lacks the inner depth and promotion of spirituality that accompanies all the religious topics.
The movie is set as an amateur documentary filming of investigation of Rossi case. The movie starts with a brief police report that tells about a cruel murder of three people by a middle-age woman named Maria. Later, the movie will reveal that a murder happened during the exorcism session. Years after the incident, Isabella Rossi, Maria’s daughter, decided to figure out the truth about her mother. Thus, Isabella arranges the trip to Rome in order to visit one of the psychiatric hospitals and to find more information about the reasons and the nature of mother’s disorder. The official diagnosis defines Maria’s condition as mentally insane; however, her daughter believes that the problem is much more serious. Brief film footages introduce the lecture on exorcism, where Isabella meets two exorcists, Ben and David. Further scenes expose the actual ritual of exorcism conducted in the basement in order to purify the young girl, who has suffered from demonic possession. The tension grows, when Isabella decides to conduct exorcism session in order to purify her mother. Unbelievable things occur in the hospital room, when the two priests provoke Maria. Actually, her behavior proves the presence of some supernatural forces; however, further sessions were not conducted. The chain of events that has happened later demonstrates transmigration of evil into one of the priests and then into other characters; the movie ends up with a car accident and no further details about Isabella and her mother have been provided.
The central theme of the movie is exorcism in the form of the ritual of purification and relief. The pioneer in the cinematographic depiction of this subject matter is the film entitled The Exorcist (1973). Actually, the movie has introduced the imagery and the ideas that have never received suchlike detailed overview and accurate explanation. The plotline is based on a family tragedy. The story about a young girl with a strange disease demonstrates the inability of reasonable science to make a certain diagnosis; moreover, the movie introduces the church as the sole savior of the poor child (Blatty & Friedkin, 1973). The film was so unusual and frightening that its slogan was “the scariest movie ever made”. Apart from an impressive play of the actors, great ability of a child to depict pure evil, suspense and tension, this film possessed significant value. The movie has marked significant social changes in America related to the reaffirmation of Christian faith (Frentz & Farrell, 1975, p. 40). The 70's represented the time, when half of the American society felt something wrong inside their country. Actually, the film contributed to the social change, since it personified “the struggle between Positivistic Evil and Transcendent Good” and “gave that struggle monumental popular significance” (Frentz & Farrell, 1975, p. 43). In addition, any known technology cannot subdue and any known scientific discipline cannot explain the belief in the presence of supernatural forces revived by the movie.
The Devil Inside refers to the present-day experience of exorcism that strives for the preservation of its rituals and faith. In the age of omniscient science, reasoning humankind tends to reject the possibility of existence of some supernatural phenomena and prefers to rely on dry facts and figures. Every phenomenon requires realistic explanation; people will be satisfied with the lie more rather than with the acknowledgement of unexplainable phenomenon. The Devil Inside draws attention to this tendency by emphasizing the changes both in people and in church. When Isabella visits the apartment of the priests the first time, Ben claims that “the church isn’t in the business of healing people… the bureaucracy won’t allow it” (Peterman, Paulson, & Bell, 2012). In fact, the exorcists referred to the year of 1999, when the reformations regarding exorcism rules were conducted. Since that time, the presence of evil spirits demanded more proofs; most of people with the marks of possession were diagnosed as insane and kept suffering in special medical institutions. Such a situation raises questions the reasons why the procedure that is actually harmless for non-possessed people is under severe limitations.
Frequent reference to the denials of Catholic Church to confirm permission in order to conduct exorcism makes the audience doubt whether the film aims at investigating exorcist themes or judging the church. Throughout the storyline, there are many appeals to the position of church regarding the question of exorcism. The two priests tell Isabella about the cases of possession they are working on without the awareness of clergy. One of the exorcists states that the church simply gave up on the possessed people but they have to do their duty in order to relieve the sufferings and provide peaceful existence (Peterman et al., 2012). The priests have to conduct secret probation of Maria in order to get the necessary proofs and to apply to the authorized church institution in order to get permission to perform an exorcism session. Actually, the church declines the appeal even after the video proofs. The characters explain the presence of all the mars of possession; however, the church does not see it. The film depicts the church in a negative context of bureaucratic affairs and diversion from the primary Christian values and the responsibilities of churchmen. The modern society seems to go through the experiences similar to those described in the article “Conversion of America’s consciousness: The rhetoric of The Exorcist” including obsession with technologies, accumulation of inner discontent and the lack of answers (Frentz & Farrell, 1975, pp. 41 - 43). In fact, it means that people need the re-appropriation of transcendental ideas. In comparison to The Exorcist (1973), this film does not evoke faith and does not elevate the significance of religious institutions. However, the movie eulogizes the strength and devotion of dedicated priests rather than the institution that stands behind them. In addition, the film attempted to express concerns regarding the loss of spirituality and the decline of church impact on the processes that occur in the modern world.
The adopted style of documentary contributes to the realistic atmosphere of the film. Actually, the movie does not have a typical storytelling of a protagonist life and it does not refer back in time (except of the initial scene of crime report about the murders in 1989). The film presents the collection of abrupt pieces of filming by tracing the case of Maria Rossi and exploring the nature of exorcism. Such a style has enabled the director to implement certain scientific facts about this procedure. For example, one of the priests tells Isabella about the four factors that distinguish possession from the mental illness. Moreover, the movie has revealed that a person suspected in being possessed is checked on the presence of knowledge of different tongues, immense strength, supernatural movement of objects and inversion to holy objects (Peterman et al., 2012). Thus, a priest can request permission to exorcism only, when all the factors have been observed. The conduct of the procedure of exorcism with all the necessary permissions and preparations including the application of medical instruments to monitor person’s physical condition resembles a medical operation rather than a spiritual act of expulsion. In fact, the interviews with exorcists deliver the information about the subject in form of dry facts. The audience is expected to use imagination in order to get involved in the mystic atmosphere of investigation.
Actually, the settings of Rome and Vatican that are commonly associated with the heart of world’s Christian church contribute to the mystic atmosphere by adding the tang of past religious fights. Italy has always been the center of religious movements and revolutions; the country has set the rules and has controlled the compliance in every corner of the world. Hence, this place perfectly befitted the story of expulsion of demonic forces. The film is rich in the shots of Italian architecture, especially the buildings of religious meaning. The central attention is given to the St. Peter’s cathedral and the square in front of it. In fact, the visual illustrations of the actual buildings frequently accompany the oral reference to the institution of church and its power. In such a way, the director, William Bell, has attempted to place religion on earthly level. Moreover, it seems that the film diminishes its spiritual nature and depicts it as the human creation dependent exclusively on them.
In comparison to the best cinematographic samples dedicated to the theme of exorcism, not only the image of church but also the whole film The Devil Inside lacks depth and moral message standing behind all the exorcism sessions and the discussion of spiritual issues. Actually, The Exorcist exemplifies the true fight between the good and the bad, purity and evil by depicting the exorcism sequence as “truly an epic battle” (Frentz & Farrell, 1975, p. 46). In addition, the movie has many story lines apart from the central drama of mother and child that refer to the spirituality in its broad sense. The churchman overwhelmed with the sense of guilt and the lack of faith to help the girl deserves great attention. The film also describes the challenge of the exorcist, who could have retired, but he has chosen to participate in the final battle against the evil. At some point, the audience realizes that human life is placed at the crossroads of neutral, positive and negative, as some invisible but sensible forces often attempt to pull a person to a specific side. In fact, The Exorcist is full of dramatic dialogues and inner worrying of characters, which come to the acknowledgement of supernatural forces and the importance of the role of faith as a shield to protect humankind from the filth of hell. In contrast, The Devil Inside is less dramatic and metaphorical. Actually, the documentary style limits the possibility of describing personal attitudes of characters, their inner feelings and challenges. The viewers of the movie do not see any contemplation on the nature of Maria’s disorder: Isabella is going to Italy to make a film about exorcism; so, she already knows mother's diagnosis. The only trace of discussion about the possibility of possession is present during the lecture on exorcism. However, a single scene, when people contradict the arguments of one another, is definitely not enough. Moreover, the exorcism is demonstrated as a kind of religious ritual that exclusively presents the cultural value similar to the dance of African shamans rather than a true tool of purification. Moreover, it lacks any evaluation of the evil and its emergence in the modern world; it is impossible to refer to the moral or spiritual aspect of the problem without the proper recognition.
The film leaves many questions unanswered except from the actual possibility of possession. Despite the fact that the female protagonist sets off on the journey to Rome in order to find out what is happening to her mother, she is actually involved in the process of filming the documentary about exorcism. Hence, the young woman is practically sure that her mother is possessed; thus, she sets off to Italy in order to cure her. However, it is still unclear how the two exorcists, who were secretly conducting exorcism sessions, could openly speak on camera and specify all the details about all the procedures. The scene in the hospital evokes many doubts, as the doctors have agreed to lock up the priests in the room with a mentally instable patient without the presence of medical personnel. In fact, the open ending heats the curiosity and forces the audience to imagine the potential outcome of the observed events.
To conclude, the film The Devil Inside presents a good example of the pseudo-documentary horror movie. The major theme of exorcism is present throughout the movie, where it is exposed from the perspective of XXI century. However, the film lacks depth in terms of the investigation of the nature of evil and the necessity to fight with it. Moreover, the movie frequently criticizes the indifference of the church and seems to blame bureaucracy for decreasing the role of religion in the modern life. Actually, found footage style of shooting, the fall of cameras during the sessions, open dialogues and interviews contribute to the realistic effect of the film. However, documentary style deprives the movie from the structural storyline, reasoning, consequences and some dramatic effect. The exorcism is depicted as a regular procedure rather than a significant confrontation between the two poles of the world. Thus, this aspect lacks philosophical evaluation and makes the film rather shallow.