Right now, somewhere in the dark, cobweb-dusted recesses of my mind, a rabbit and a duck argue. Familiar voices bicker back and forth…

“Rabbit season!”
“Duck season!”
“Rabbit season!”
“Duck season!”

It goes on like this for some time until a disheveled young girl in a pea soup-stained nightgown approaches, slaps them both senseless and growls, “exorcism season.”

Who knew? I must’ve missed the memo but it seems for the last couple of years that January has become the time to release exorcism movies. On the one hand, I’m pretty happy about having some of my favorite kind of supernatural horror to start the year. On the other hand, last year’s inaugural celebration of internal deviltry, “the Rite” was no great shakes.

This year’s entry, “the Devil Inside” sets the bar even lower.

The film starts in 1989 with a recording of a 911 call and “police footage” of a triple murder. More exactly, it’s an unauthorized exorcism of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) that leaves two priests and a nun dead. Fast forward twenty years and we find Maria’s daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) working with filmmaker Michael (Ionut Grama) trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on with her mom. Their efforts take them to the Vatican where they meet Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth), a pair of rogue exorcists. They introduces Isabella and Michael to the world of spiritual warfare and agrees to examine Maria in order to determine if she’s possessed.

Of course, she is.

“The Devil Inside” is the first feature from director William Brent Bell since 2006’s “Stay Alive”. “Devil” is a movie that sleepwalks through most of the first half before it stirs groggily in the middle and then stumbles through the last act before it finally lurches abruptly to a stop. Fortunately, its journey isn’t difficult one since it cribs earlier exorcism (“The Last Exorcism” and “the Rite”) and found footage (“Paranormal Activity”) films. As I’ve said before, “great directors pay homage, lesser directors steal,” and brother, does this movie feel stolen. Plot points and signature shots are lifted from better movies and they aren’t hard to spot. And if that weren’t enough – despite the claims of its marketing – the movie just isn’t scary. If anything, it’s predictable: you can almost pick out where the jump scares are coming. Granted, it’s not all bad but I’d pin it close to about 98% bad. There were a few nice touches which I think only made things more frustrating..

The acting – as I am fond of saying – was solid. The actors did well with what they had but it wasn’t much. You could have just as easily pulled any of their characters from the Big Book of Horror Clichés: the Daughter Searching for Answers, the troubled Priests, the hapless Cameraman. This is a movie that simply gives us placeholders that simply move us through the story but no one to care about. Of course, that’s an unfortunate conceit of horror stories: you don’t need characters, just someone to walk through, make bad decisions and get abused. You certainly get that here.

“The Devil Inside” is what we’ve come to expect from big studio horror: a tired formula in new togs. It’s a disappointing start to the New Year. Maybe next season will be better.

[imdblt]The Devil Inside[/imdblt]