“I’ve seen the devil way more than I’ve seen God, which is not the way it’s supposed to be…” – Father Ben Rawlings
There’s been quite a few movies centering on demonic possession over the years, from 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose to the one that started it all in 1973, The Exorcist. But one in particular wasn’t as well-received by audiences as the rest. We’re talking about William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside, which was released in 2012 and follows Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) as she travels to Italy to discover whether her mother, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), is mentally unstable as healthcare professionals assume, or under the control of something more sinister. As The Devil Inside celebrates its 10th anniversary, PopHorror takes a look back at the mockumentary, including its controversial ending.
At the start of The Devil Inside, viewers are introduced to Maria, who dials 9-1-1 after brutally murdering two priests and a nun on October 30, 1989. Fast-forward 20 years. Her daughter, Isabella, is seeking the truth of what happened that night. Yet, Isabella knows in her gut that her mother’s problems lie far beyond that of mental health issues. She heads to the Catholic psychiatric hospital in Rome where her mother was previously transferred, where she connects with filmmaker Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama), who agrees to document her mission, as well as priests Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and David Keane (Evan Helmuth) who perform exorcisms unapproved by the church.
Over the course of The Devil Inside, it becomes clear that Maria is, in fact, possessed. From her uncanny knowledge that Isabella previously had an abortion to the inverted crosses lining her arms, the evidence is all there. Ben even determines four separate voices in a recording of Maria, allowing him to realize the magnitude of the dangers they’re dealing with. The priests’ assessment of Maria goes horribly wrong when the demonic force transfers itself into David, who almost drowns a baby during a baptism. When David ultimately kills himself, the force yet again transfers itself, this time into Isabella, who murders a hospital worker. But the force isn’t done just yet.
In the final scene, Ben struggles to contain Isabella in the backseat of a car while Michael drives to find help. The force transfers one last time into Michael, who veers the vehicle into oncoming traffic. The Devil Inside concludes by informing audiences that the case of the Rossi family is still unresolved and to visit TheRossiFiles.com (a real site that was only active for a limited time) for more information.
To start, we must talk about all of the great aspects of The Devil Inside, directed by Bell, the brains behind 2016’s The Boy. His take on the mockumentary format is extremely well-executed. Though it’s a made-up tale with fictional characters, when one Googles the movie, a top suggestion remains: “The Devil Inside true story.” This means that many audiences are unsure if what they witnessed is based on real-life events or simply the imaginative mind of the director. Though some moments in the film are a little far-fetched, such as the demonic entity essentially playing musical chairs with the group, others like Maria’s 9-1-1 call have a chillingly realistic quality about them.
As for the cast, especially the poor victims of possession, they each play the part creepy and well. A standout is Evan Helmuth as Father David, whose transition to the dark side is fascinating to watch and a pretty shocking plot twist. While at first his solemn demeanor and blank stares could be chalked up to the stress of losing his job if the church found out about his and Ben’s exorcism side work, it’s evident this isn’t the case during the baptism. Arguably one of the most stressful scenes, audiences may find themselves yelling at the parents to take their baby away from David as his face grows darker and he inches closer to the tub of holy water.
However, the conclusion—or lack thereof—continues to be a hot button topic for horror fans to this day (just check out the reviews on IMDB). Once the demon latches onto Michael and he drives into oncoming traffic, it just ends. Are they dead? Alive? Does the demon head back to hell or transfer into an unsuspecting motorist on the highway? After dedicating almost an hour and a half to the journey of Isabella and friends, audiences want some kind of answer that doesn’t involve the entire cast being deceased.
It’s hard to say if the unsatisfying ending is a blessing or a curse for The Devil Inside. Sure, it resulted in some terrible reviews over the past decade. But those terrible reviews likely caused many to watch it simply to see why people disliked it so much.