Mike looks at the box office success and audience lambasting of The Devil Inside, and what it might mean for future indie horror on the big screen.
Over the weekend The Devil Inside stunned industry pundits and scared up (I want to punch myself in my own face after that pun) $34 million in box office receipts. In the process of doing so it managed to infuriate just about every paying customer with its abrupt, hackneyed and botched ending that directed people that forked over $10 to a viral marketing site to “continue the story”. Audiences howled in protests, booing the screen and demanding a refund. Minutes after the initial screenings let out, Twitter blew up with a steady stream of angry posts killing the film for its end.
As a warning, I’m going to spoil the end of the film after the image break. If you plan on seeing the film and want to go in cold, feel free to bookmark this page and check back later. I won’t hold it against you. If you read on, I want to take a brief look at the controversial ending, the box office and what it might mean for future independent horror productions.
While I want to say “by their very nature found footage horror films have an abrupt ending”, there’s no hard and fast rule that states a film must end this way. It’s been the accepted closure ever since Heather found Mike standing in the corner moments before an unseen person or phenomenon cracked her over the head, knocking the camera to the ground in the process. Every film using the same reality conceit has followed that blueprint when it comes to the ending. The Devil Inside is no different.
The film comes to its head weeks after in the back seat of a car, when one character has been broken out of a hospital after eviscerating a nurse in a psychotic rage. In the back of the car, our remaining priest attempts an exorcism while the “director” speeds the pair off to help. It’s actually a pretty tense scene, right up until the moment it goes to seed. For lack of a better description Isabella “breathes” on the driver, which inexplicably transfers one of the demons she’s harboring from her body to his. With a slack jaw expression, he undoes his seatbelt, takes his hands off the wheel and veers into the headlights on an oncoming truck. The car rolls over, and he film cuts to black then the previously mentioned instructions for the website pop up on screen. Howls of protest and demands for one’s time and money back soon follow.
Both critics and John Q Public tore into the movie with venom usually reserved for Uwe Boll jam. The film earned the ultra rare “F” grade from Cinemascope. Despite the heated rhetoric on social media outlets, audiences turned up in droves. Paramount, who released The Devil Inside under their Insurge production label, recouped both productions and marketing costs by the middle of Friday, laughing all the way to the bank. If no one else paid for a ticket the film would still be a financial success many times over.
I’m torn on by the financial success of the film. Aside from Paranormal Activity 3, a film that The Devil Inside owes a great deal to in both structure and marketing savvy, horror has taken a downturn in the theaters. To put it in perspective, from August 12th through September 8th Final Destination 5, Fright Night 3D, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18 pulled in a combined $39.5 million in their opening weekends. This led myself and others to speculate if the future of the genre lay in the video-on-demand and limited theatrical release strategy films like Attack the Block, The Woman, The Innkeepers, Troll Hunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Red State all embraced.
The success of The Devil Inside could change things. Paramount started the Insurge imprint as a way to cash in on the success of Paranormal Activity. The studio aims to fund a number of low budget films (made for around one million), create a strong marketing campaign and secure a few thousand screens for a wide release. Even adding a few million dollars for promotional costs, the theory is the films should turn a healthy profit, and in the case of TDI, results in a breakout smash hit.
If this results in an increased number of talented indie film makers securing a decent budget for their projects and puts many more eyeballs on their work I am all for this model. When one looks at what directors like Richard Marr Griffin can do strapped means-the upcoming DVD Atomic Brain Invasion perfectly encapsulates 1950’s Drive-In fare for a pittance; it blows the mind to think what he could do with increased means. The Soskas made Dead Hooker in a Trunk for a song and a dance and it blows away tongue in cheek Grindhouse homage like, well, Grindhouse. Bradley Scott Sullivan’s I Didn’t Come Here To Die has been hailed as the best debut genre film since The Evil Dead, yet how many people have heard of it? With the proper push, if that film couldn’t rake in what a slasher movie released in its heyday I would eat a bag of my daughter’s dirty diapers. The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hundreds of amazing film makers toiling in the fringes of the genre at the moment. All of the above delivered a much more satisfying movie going experience than The Devil Inside.
But when a studio treats its audience with the brazen contempt it showed with the ending of The Devil Inside, potential ticket buyers flush with entertainment options and take their business elsewhere. It’s why films get downloaded via torrent sites, lest the pirate take a chance on a movie and risk getting burned. It’s why directors like Ti West need to plead their case for legally renting or purchasing a ticket for their films online. Look, The Innkeepers is a film I had problems with, but I will hand over another $10 next month when the film plays the Coolidge Corner, because while not perfect, it deserves my money many times over what I was treated to this past weekend. The hatred this film has garnered may give studios pause when green lighting future projects that even give off the slightest whiff of not playing it safe. One would like to believe studio heads are smart enough to realize the public will give a smart, well made film that challenges the audience an opportunity, but then you realize these are the same people that gave the OK to Bucky Larson, Born To Be A Star.