Audience response to a Hollywood faux documentary, The Devil Inside, has belied the critics who have panned the flick. Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday January 6-8 at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com, showed that The Devil Inside took in $34.5 million, surpassing the glitzy Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – starring the nimble Tom Cruise – which brought in $20.5 million. Following in third place was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr, at $14.1 million in domestic receipts, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig of 007 fame, at $14.1 million in fourth place. See trailer here.
A surprise hit for Paramount Pictures, the horror film surpassed industry expectations as freak flick fans went to theatres to see a low-budget film about exorcists who try to liberate a woman possessed by demons. With the results from The Devil Inside, Hollywood’s business made for a bright first week of the new year, following a sluggish Christmas season at the box office despite some otherwise excellent films such as Tintin and Hugo. Overall domestic revenues totaled $144 million, up 29 percent from the same weekend last year, when True Grit led with $14.6 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
The Devil Inside is an independently produced movie that the studio bought for $1 million. Paramount has bought other low-budget films, such as Paranormal Activity and its sequels that brought in more than $100 million in profits. Like Paranormal Activity and another January release, Cloverfield, The Devil Inside is fiction shot as a faux documentary, much like The Blair Witch Project. According to Paramount, 59 percent of viewers for The Devil Inside were under 25 and 85 percent were under 35, prime viewers for Hollywood who had not turned up for much of 2011. Typically, the first week of the year is a good time to entice these viewers to the cinema. In another measure of viewer interest in exorcism themes, the trailer for The Devil Inside has registered over 3 million views on YouTube.
Industry analysts had thought that Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, starring the aging Tom Cruise, would remain in first place. The expectation was that The Devil Inside would make just $15 million, less than half the business it actually did. However, this film may follow the time-honored path of other such horror movies: packing crowds in on opening day, to only tank afterwards. On January 6, Friday, The Devil Inside made $16.85 million, dropping to $11.75 million on the next day, and reaching an estimated $5.9 million on Sunday on January 8. Final sales figures are forthcoming.
Critics at Variety magazine, and the Los Angeles Times, panned the film, while audience reaction was mixed. According to Paramount, 16 percent of the audience gave it an A grade, while 19 percent gave it an F. Two-thirds of the audience gave the movie a grade of C or lower.
According to Paramount, 59 percent of viewers for The Devil Inside were under 25 and 85 percent were under 35, prime viewers for Hollywood who had not turned up in their usual numbers for much of last year. Like the Obama campaign, marketers made good use of an online presence to promote their product. With a sales campaign that bypassed traditional newspaper and TV advertising in favor of online teasers and cryptic marketing, Paramount managed to get young adults into cinemas who had not been interested in family films like Steven Spielberg's excellent Tintin and War Horse.
The Devil Inside mines Hollywood's hoary past, which for exorcism films had its genesis in The Exorcist, which was filmed in the 70s and starred the inimitable Max von Sydow. The movie uses faux documentary footage to lend verisimilitude. In 1989, emergency responders received a 9-1-1 call from Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) confessing that she had brutally killed three people. Two decades later, her daughter Isabella (played by Fernanda Andrade) seeks to know what really happened and so travels to Centrino Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Italy where her mother has been locked away to determine if her mother is insane or possessed. A plot hole yawns broadly here: How did mother Maria come to be tucked away in Italy? When daughter Isabella recruits two young seminarians (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) to cure her mother using methods unauthorized by the Catholic Church and combining both science and religion, they face pure evil in the form of four powerful demons possessing Maria.
There seems to be no end to Hollywood's fascination with all things Catholic, even to the extent of using Catholic liturgy and teachings to further secular, or even anti-Catholic aims. But cheap thrills like these appear to bankable for Hollywood, albeit very briefly.