Friday, January 06, 2012

'The Devil Inside' review ... and the State of Studio Horror Films

The Devil Inside opens today. As you might imagine, it's not so good. But I wanted to touch on a few things that I didn't have the space to address in my Screen International review:

1. Why do people find exorcisms scary?

I realize that may sound like a silly question. People find them scary because the person is flopping around and speaking in tongues and spewing horrible things out of his or her mouth (or other orifices, if you're really unlucky). But unlike other horrific/terrifying things that are portrayed on screen, I don't find myself particularly scared by the prospect of seeing an exorcism on screen. It's not like being killed by a guy with a knife or being trapped in a haunted house or having to escape zombies: As farfetched as some of those scenarios are, they at least seem plausible in the world of a horror movie. But with an exorcism, well, you're sorta just watching someone (who's normally not the main character) having their limbs go in funky directions they normally don't. That's incredibly discomforting to watch, but it's not, as far as I'm concerned, really frightening.

Clearly, I'm in the minority. Between The Rite and The Last Exorcism and a few other recent examples, exorcism horror movies are relatively popular. (Or at least Hollywood thinks they are.) Maybe it's because of the recent scandals in the Catholic Church? Whatever reason, I go to these films mostly preparing to have a miserable time. There are few things worse than watching a horror movie whose central concept just makes you irritable.

2. Is it time to retire the found-footage gimmick?

This may be a strange thing for me to say. I actually liked Apollo 18, and I remain a fan of the Paranormal Activity films. But with PA, as I've written about previously, I would argue that the films' found-footage conceit isn't really what's scary about those movies: It's the way the conceit forces you to look around the screen with the knowledge that something horrible is there somewhere. As for Apollo 18, the filmmakers' decision to design the movie as leaked footage from a doomed moon mission is actually executed pretty well technically, even though I'm pretty sure the film as a whole cost about 10 bucks to make. But what's really scary about Apollo 18, unlike The Devil Inside, is that it does play into universal fears in grimly effective ways. Claustrophobia, fear of drowning/smothering/suffocating, fear of creepy-crawly things ... Apollo 18 doesn't win any prizes for originality but it at least knows what horrors it's tapping into. Did it need to be camouflaged as a found-footage film? Probably not.