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Movie Review

In late 1989, an exorcism was performed on Maria Rossi. It proved to be fatal—for the exorcists.

Two priests and a nun were killed that October night, and Maria was sent to an asylum in Rome. She is heavily medicated. She gets few visitors. She tries to kill anyone who talks about God or Jesus or faith.

In 2009, Maria's daughter, Isabella, comes to see her mom. She was 6 when her mother apparently snapped, and now she's looking for answers. Is her parent possessed? Insane? Is it possible that the same badness that infects Maria's soul lurks inside Isabella too?

She doesn't come alone: Michael, a documentary filmmaker, tags along, carrying with him a legion of cameras. Together they settle in and try to talk with the vacant-eyed Maria.

She doesn't have much to say.

Maria doesn't recognize her child at all, and at first she simply speaks gibberish: "Connectthecutsconnectthecutsconnect—" she says. Then she peels back her sleeves, revealing the scars of crosses she's carved in her arms—and another on the inside of her lower lip. She shows them a painting she's made—one that eerily resembles an old family picture Isabella carries. And then, just before Isabella gives up, Maria turns cogent: She looks at her, as if for the first time.

"You shouldn't have killed your child," she says. "It's against God's will, you know."

Isabella leaves, shaken. She explains to Michael that she terminated a pregnancy years earlier.

There was no way Maria could know.


Positive Elements

If you've read the introduction, you've already processed pretty much every bit of positivity this movie has to offer: The spiritual realm is seen as quite real. Abortion is said to be a bad thing.

Want more? Well, the movie's just 87 minutes long. And Rome seems to be a very pretty place to visit.

Spiritual Content

The Devil Inside portrays spiritual warfare as quite real and demons as quite fearsome. And I suppose it's nice to see the spiritual world so blatantly affirmed. As a priest says early on, "Science can't explain everything—such as a person levitating two feet off the ground during an exorcism." Evidence of demonic possession lurks everywhere onscreen, and the film's two primary exorcists believe the Catholic Church underestimates the numbers of possessed in need of cleansing.

As such, these two exorcists—part-time doctor David and full-time demon hunter Ben—have gone rogue, conducting exorcisms without the knowledge or approval of the Church.

"What we're doing in the eyes of the Church is so wrong," David says.

"It's why we know it's right," the conspiratorially minded Ben adds.

In reality the film has all the theological oomph of a raspberry Danish. But it does still convey two important concepts: One, demons are still subject to the authority of God. Exorcisms are shown to help those possessed (even if a bevy of evil forces does overwhelm the outmatched exorcists in the end). Two—and this is the thing that I find most interesting—these demons use the characters' own secret sins against them.

"You shouldn't have killed your child," Maria coos to Isabella. Later, another demon tells Ben, "You can't get back into God's good graces. Not after what you did." A spirit accuses David of fantasizing about one of his exorcism patients. Everyone, it seems, has reservoirs of guilt which these supernatural forces exploit. For me, that's a reminder of how temptation and sin affect us all. And while the outward manifestations are less dramatic, perhaps the results of harboring sin can be no less damaging or horrifying.

More tangibly, we hear prayers in the context of exorcisms. Priests hold classes on exorcism for other priests, acolytes and laymen. Crosses festoon the asylum. The bloody marks on Maria's arms are described as inverted crosses.

A Catholic infant baptism goes horribly awry. A possessed priest begins to recite the Lord's Prayer; halfway through realizes he's forgotten the rest. A doubter challenges the idea that possessions—and that God Himself—are anything more than theoretical. "God has never helped me," he says. "What about you?" "Sure," Isabella answers after a pause. Ben, disgruntled with the Catholic Church, says it's "not in the business of helping people."

Sexual Content

A possessed woman makes profane come-ons to an attending priest, suggesting that she perform oral sex on him. Another woman makes a very crass invitation for someone to make use of her sexual anatomy. We see an incredibly skinny woman in a bra.

We learn that Michael's mother slept with her husband's best friend. A slight is made regarding a priest's sexual orientation.

Violent Content

A film crew tromps through Maria's house and shows the bodies of those she killed: The corpses are covered in blood, and the bloody murder weapons—an ax and a pick—lay nearby. Walls and floors are smeared with crimson; the police inspector explains in clinical detail how each person was killed.

Maria bangs her head against a wall, leaving her face bloody. She smashes someone else's face into a table. But these early manifestations of her condition look demure compared to what we see during the film's first official exorcism: The woman involved lies unconscious, horribly contorted on her bed. She's given a muscle relaxant, and she slowly untwists herself, joints grotesquely popping as she moves. She has wounds on the palms of her hands. She thrashes and screams, at one point arching her back in a horrifically unnatural position. At another, she breaks free and creepily scuttles around the room. Blood seeps from her crotch.

Another possessed soul breaks free and battles with exorcists—throwing one across the room with inhuman strength, pushing another down through force of psychic will. A car crash kills or seriously injures those involved. A hospital worker is killed. (We see blood seeping from her neck and over her already blood-soaked torso.) A woman begins contorting painfully, screaming for someone to help her. A baby is nearly drowned during a baptismal ceremony. A man bleeds from his forearms and wrists—injuries likely self-inflicted. A priest commits suicide by shooting himself. (Blood spatters across a wall covered with pages from the Bible.)

Crude or Profane Language

Those who aren't possessed by demons tend to speak with a relatively civil tongue. Those who are … well, they use the f-word at least 15 times, the s-word about five and the c-word once. We also hear "h‑‑‑," "f-ggot" and "bloody." Jesus' name is employed as an expletive once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

David smokes. Characters gather at a pub to drink beer and wine.

Other Negative Elements


"In all these years," a weary Ben tells the camera, "I've seen the devil way more than I've seen God. That's not the way it should be."

Ben could be a typical moviegoer. Think about it: We see manifestations of the devil onscreen far more than we see God. How many films over the last five years have involved manifestations of demon possession or supernatural evil? Twenty? Thirty? More? How many times have we seen God?

Perhaps there's some good to be found in that disparity. We can't really get a good idea of who and what the Lord is on a mere movie screen. He's far too big, too good, too holy. No matter how reverently we try, our finite minds are incapable of grasping all that He is, and so we'll invariably do Him an injustice. Maybe that's why, when I was growing up, I was taught that depicting God in any manner was a flat-out sin.

Satan's another story, though. And trying to imagine what his legions might look like has fascinated some of history's best, most pious artists and authors. We all, unfortunately, know what sin looks like. Could grappling with its personification through book and film have merit? Horror films as disparate as The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose were conceived with an implicit spiritual intent: If possession is real, it stands to reason that the devil is. And if the devil is real, doesn't that mean God is too?

But Ben's weary statement reveals something: When we spend so much time focused on the evil out there—as the likes of The Devil Inside invariably force you to do—you can lose sight, or more fairly, lose your sense of God. We already see so much evil in the world. And it's easy to grow cynical and callous. After a while, as the depth of badness grows ever more real to us, the vivid goodness of God can feel pale by comparison.

And that's without indulging the dark subject by way of movies too. Should we really be adding that dimension?

Not that The Devil Inside really serves as a proper catalyst for such a deep musing. It's little more than a horrible movie any way you look at it. Critics hate it. Theologians would rip it apart. Even the advance-screening audience I saw it with was pretty disappointed. "That's it?" one attendee asked. "I want my money back," another quipped—well aware that she'd seen it for free.

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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