Said clerical types – Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) – are renegade exorcists who step in when the “institutional,” “bureaucratic” church is too cowardly, hypocritical or just plain stupid to grant the possessed the rites that will set them free. Ben – an unshaven, twentysomething Englishman who seems permanently on the edge of forming an “Occupy Vatican City” movement – is particularly outspoken with his prejudices.
Such bigotry is never challenged. Nor does it ever seem to occur to anyone on screen that the church might have good reason to be wary of granting exorcisms. If performed on someone who is mentally ill – as opposed to genuinely possessed – after all, the ritual could potentially cause significant further psychological damage.
The film’s opening proudly proclaims that the Vatican didn’t assist in its production. That’s all-too obvious, given the numerous inaccurate portrayals of both doctrine and practice. These range from made-up rites of exorcism to a blatant misrepresentation of the theology of baptism.
Another distortion is the supposed principle of “demonic transference,” whereby an evil spirit can jump from one person to another in a flash, almost like a satanic form of the flu. Carried to farcical extremes, this idea has far less to do with Catholic teaching than with advancing the movie’s halting plot.
Other entries in the genre – such as 1973’s “The Exorcist” and the more recent “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” – inspired fear through implication and tension. Bereft of such subtlety, “The Devil Inside” resorts to loudly cracking bones, enormous amounts of blood and bouts of obscene language – with results more risible than terrifying.
Don’t say Mother Church didn’t warn you.
The film contains anti-Catholic animus, a fallacious presentation of church teaching and practice, implied acceptance of abortion, rare but intensely gory violence, a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Jensen and Shaw are guest reviewers for Catholic News Service.