Friday, May 18, 2012

New on DVD: THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012) and THE VETERAN (2011)

(US, 2012)

Unbelievably awful faux-documentary possession film that made headlines after its opening weekend for its abrupt, borderline audience-contempt ending.  The action just stops and directs you to a web site for "more on the ongoing investigation."  Going to that site (www.therossifiles.com) reveals...fake newspaper articles, character bios, and scenes from the film.  Budgeted at $1 million, enough suckers got roped into this that it grossed $33 million in its opening weekend, and even after the terrible word of mouth, still managed to rake in another $20 million.  In a just world, director/co-writer William Brent Bell would be run out of Hollywood by a torch-wielding mob of angry fanboy conventioneers, but now he's got a sleeper hit on his resume that made back its budget 53 times over despite being a complete pile of dog shit and in today's world of horror fandom, people with much less box office success have been anointed a "Master of Horror."  The predictable story follows a young American woman (Fernanda Andrade) to Rome, where her mother (Suzan Crowley) has been held in a mental hospital since 1989. Why Rome?  She was transferred there because she committed three murders during an exorcism.  Andrade is accompanied by a documentary filmmaker (Ionut Grama) who's investigating the phenomenon of possession.  While attending a Vatican exorcism class (which they apparently allow people to film?), Andrade meets two rogue priests (Simon Quaterman, Evan Helmuth) who conduct off-the-record exorcisms in their free time.  An attempt to exorcise Crowley reveals that she's possessed by four different demons, and maybe, just maybe there's a chance that all that unsubtle talk of "soul transference" might have an effect on the four protagonists.

There's some interesting possibilities here, but it's never scary and the whole demonic possession thing is more played-out than the zombie genre.  This comes nearly 40 years after THE EXORCIST, which still hasn't been topped and never will be.  How many more of these do we need?  Does it stop when every horror concept is redone as a mock documentary or as "found footage"?  And then there's that ending.   I think Bell might've been going for a kick-in-the-balls shocker of a close, but to say he bungled it is an understatement.  Instead, it comes across as a cheap, insulting cop-out, so much so that a paying audience could be forgiven if they thought the projector broke.  THE DEVIL INSIDE, the cinematic equivalent of a deposed Nigerian prince e-mail, is barely tolerable at home and must've been an enraging experience theatrically.  You've been warned.   All the shit you've heard about this thing is true. (R, 83 mins)

(UK, 2011)

A misleading trailer makes this out to be another UK vigilante flick in the mold of the recent Michael Caine drama HARRY BROWN (it's even shot at the same Heygate Estate housing project in south London).  That eventually does come into play, but ultimately, THE VETERAN is one of the angriest and most cynical films to come down the pike in quite some time.  Depressed military vet Robert Miller (a strong performance by Toby Kebbell, perhaps best known for Guy Ritchie's ROCKNROLLA) finds it hard to adjust once he's back from Afghanistan.  Combat pal Danny (Tom Brooke) introduces him to his older brother Chris (Tony Curran) who works with powerful mystery man Gerry (Brian Cox).  Chris informs Robert that he's part of a government surveillance operation, monitoring terrorist cells in London, and its connection to everything from the CIA to the drug pushers who have taken over the housing project where Robert lives.  Being the exceptional soldier he was trained to be, Robert takes some liberties with his assignment--to watch an informant named Alayna (Adi Bielski), who has access to vital Al-Qaeda intel--which gets him into some hot water in ways he never sees coming...but unfortunately, you will.

A draggy midsection slows it down considerably, and the script--co-written by director Matthew Hope--is prone to implausibilities and cliches (an on-the-edge Robert staring into the mirror and punching the wall; or holding his shaking hand in front of him, trying to stabilize it), but THE VETERAN really steps it up in the home stretch with a jawdropping climax that astonishes with its utter lack of concern for pleasing the crowd.  The films are otherwise unrelated, but with THE DEVIL INSIDE in the above review, I mentioned that the filmmakers wanted to go for a gutpunch of an ending that really knocks you on your ass...and they failed miserably.  THE VETERAN goes for that same kind of finish and does it right.  It's inevitable that Robert would be driven to do what he does, finding that he's once again being a good soldier and paying the price while the puppet masters skip away unscathed, but it still doesn't prepare you for how it pans out.  The ironically-named Hope has a message and eventually, after some mid-film putzing about, gets it across loud and clear.  Flaws and all, it's pretty powerful stuff, and Cox gets one of those memorable movie speeches that will likely end up on YouTube if it isn't already.  (R, 98 mins).  Also available on Netflix streaming

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