[THIS POST HAS MILD DEVIL INSIDE SPOILERS]
The found-footage horror film The Devil Inside took full possession of the box-office its opening weekend, earning $34.5 million dollars for Paramount Pictures, which had picked up the film for a mere $1 million. Paramount, of course, also had tremendous success with the continuously popular Paranormal Activity franchise. The Devil Inside initially looked poised to compete with the monster that is “Paranormal.” The second weekend for the film, however, saw a 76% decline and a drop to sixth place at the box-office earning a drastically reduced $7.5 million.
The much-maligned ending of the movie may account for the steep reduction in box-office returns. Writer/director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman, however, say that the audience response has not scared them “into wanting to have wrapped up traditional Hollywood endings to a movie. Not by a long shot.”
“It’s exciting to spark a dialogue with people,” director William Brent Bell explained during our interview. “I don’t know how you can quantify the statistics, but there are a ridiculous amount of people who love that ending. We knew that doing the film in a non-Hollywood, non-traditional way people would have a really harsh response to it. But it felt authentic to us.”
“We were going for a level of realism,” the films co-writer Matthew Peterman continued. “Sometimes real life doesn’t follow a perfect structure. Things aren’t always wrapped up and resolved when or how you’d like them to be. All of us enjoyed leaving things open ended. We thought it was visceral, we thought it was unique.”
There are, of course, two elements of the film's conclusion. One is the abrupt stopping point (which, if you’ve not seen it, we will not reveal here), and the other, is what Peterman refers to as, the “interactive” element that allows the audience to follow-up their experience with a visit to a website, The Rossi Files, for more information on the "case" the film is documenting.
“You might be able to remove one and keep the other and not have that jarring effect on people,” Peterman mused. “The website was a very late idea and it didn’t seem to be quite as big a deal when Paramount presented it to us,” Bell continued. “And we were surprised that people were shocked and upset about an abrupt ending, because people seemed to want more, but the website seemed to feel a little bit manipulative. That wasn’t the intention, we were just trying something a bit different.”
Last week we reported that Bell and Peterman are working on a new “found-footage” horror film. They are not at liberty to provide specifics on the story at the moment, though they do assure me that this is a separate endeavor from the (potential) sequel to The Devil Inside. A sequel which may, or may not, see the light of day.
“The sequel is something that we, the producers and Paramount are going to visit with in the next couple of weeks as the film gets out internationally,” Bell says. Given the recent drop in the domestic box-office, the continuation of the franchise will be largely dependent on the international gross. But then, there is certainly a precedent for horror franchises earning the bulk of their profits via the international audience.
Though the writing team say they have learned from the film, they still stick by what they were trying to create in terms of a sense of “realism," and that includes the controversial ending. Where they go from here remains to be seen, but where they have come from feels like a fairly easy trajectory to trace. There is now an established tradition of this brand of horror film; indeed, after their Paranormal Activity purchase, Paramount developed an entire division devoted to low-budget horror films.
“If you think of the real classics, the original 'Halloween' and the original 'Chainsaw Massacre', those movies are very raw and real,” Bell says. "Even 'The Exorcist,' It’s surprising when you go back and watch them to see how real they are. That, coupled with audiences being used to reality television, has made them open to less scripted and more handheld, more raw, real type of fare. I also think that when you’re trying to get scared you want to believe that it can happen to you. So when you’re watching a movie that is found-footage and faux documentary, it allows the audience to become a little more invested and a little more scared by what’s happening.”
The approach, as mentioned, is no longer novel, but it can be quite effective. The creative team used the “docu-style” as their aesthetic springboard and a shocking uptick in reported exorcisms over the last decade as the foundation for a tale which follows a young woman's journey to uncover what has become of her demon-possessed (or possibly mentally ill) mother. “The Vatican had started this school for exorcism because they said that in 2004 the instances of exorcism was the highest that they had ever documented it,” Bell says. The pair were inspired do discover what believers felt was behind the upsurge and interviewed “metaphysicians, Priests, exorcists and neurologists” as part of their research for the script.
“If you believe in the devil, you believe in God and of course people want to believe in God,” Peterman offers as one possible explanation for the increase.
“You can’t have one without the other,” Bell agrees. “I’ll tell you one thing that’s kind of interesting,” the director says of his research into the minds of those who believe in possession. “They think that in this day in age that Satan, what have you, whatever you want to call it, uses Entertainment against us. Entertainment and technology. They would say his reach is so much further because now he can use twitter and Facebook and the Internet and television to communicate.”
As someone who makes their living online, it's tough to argue with that.
“And people can see things that are more shocking or disturbing than they ever have in the past and maybe that has a negative effect on everybody overall,” Bell says.
“The big thing is science versus faith,” Peterman continues. “And as we go along further in time and we all become more knowledgeable and learn things about the past that may discredit the existence of God and the supernatural people will tell you that the Devil loves that. As much as the Devil likes to stay a little bit hidden, he would love for people to think that God is a myth.”
As to what their film offers in terms of insight into the phenomena, Bell sums it up thusly:
“I think it’s showing as realistic a portrayal of the battle between good and evil, or God and the Devil - if you want to call it that - as possible. And that the battle is out there, so don’t think that it’s not. So we’ve always said that it’s not anti-Church. It’s just showing that we might not be privy to the secrets of what might be happening out there in the real world.”
The Devil Inside is in theaters now.
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