According to Box Office Mojo, The Devil Inside wasn’t just this weekend’s surprise box office leader. Having raked in approximately $33.7 million dollars in just three days’ time, the maddeningly generic Exorcist rip-off-by-way-of-Paranormal Activity also holds the record for the third-highest grossing domestic release to debut in January. Funny thing about that success: as Box Office Mojo also points out, Devil was most successful on Friday night, raking in about half of its take in just one night. Word of mouth about this pile of doo, directed by the guy that brought us Stay Alive, spread faster than a stink bomb in a middle school bathroom. (Stories about spontaneous booing at the film’s hilariously anti-climactic conclusion are personal favorites.) And yet, common sense did not ultimately prevail and a goodly portion of the American movie-going public collectively said, “Fuck it, I’m going to just give my money away.”
If, however, you must have no-brow horror cinema and refuse to go beyond your local multiplex, might I suggest The Darkest Hour? Director Chris Gorak’s ill-advised follow-up to his surprisingly stirring horror thriller Right at Your Door is at least uniquely awful. The Darkest Hour looks like it was cobbled together from parts of two equally superficial but otherwise dissimilar films. One of those films is a dopey but sometimes engaging alien invasion B-movie starring Emile Hirsch (who is currently stealing his schtick from DiCaprio, circa Catch Me if You Can) and a bunch of other young actors that are somehow even less famous than Hirsch. The other film is a clumsy disaster film-cum-metaphor for post-Soviet Russia as a consumerist mausoleum. So when you watch The Darkest Hour, you’re paying to watch pretty young things run around a deserted Moscow as humans get disintegrated by invisible energy-absorbing aliens that inadvertently expose how hollow the lives of contemporary Muscovites are under capitalism. It’s like they read our minds and created a film just for no one….
But seriously, The Darkest Hour is at least a uniquely disastrous fantasy. Apartment-shaped Faraday cages become metaphors for the protective shell Cold War survivors created for themselves after Mama Russia was introduced to designer clothes and McDonald’s stores. And, oh yeah, young pretty things get menaced by energy monsters that reduce every form of organic life they touch (man and dog alike) to ash. By contrast, The Devil Inside is just a one-trick turd. Its cookie-cutter protags get harassed by non-threatening demons that mouth the same curse words and make the same obscene gestures that Linda Blair and William Friedkin did in The Exorcist…except without any of that classic film’s conviction or charisma whatsoever.
So if you want to watch a fun, trashy movie this weekend but you’re dead set on seeing The Devil Inside, go to a theater showing both The Darkest Hour and The Devil Inside. Buy a ticket for The Darkest Hour and support a film that has a truly bizarre vision, one that’s so strange that even a promising tyro like Gorak wasn’t able to pull it off. Start watching The Darkest Hour. And if you don’t like it, sneak into The Devil Inside and see what you’re not missing. This way you can get what you only think you want and support an ambitious misfire while doing it. You probably won’t leave the theater happy. But at least you’ll have voted with your wallet for a film that has several original thoughts competing in its head instead of a thrice told tale that was only ever as exciting as its ideas.
Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in the Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, The Extended Cut.