This past weekend, The Devil Inside set a new box-office record for a movie opening during the first weekend of January. Reportedly made for just under $1 million, The Devil Inside is a so-called “found footage” horror movie—i.e., a low-budget frightener crafted to look like what you’re watching is footage left behind by victims of whatever creature, disaster, or evildoer provides the movie’s thrills. (The most famous example is probably The Blair Witch Project, though the genre dates at least as far back as 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust.)
The genre pretty much dictates the endings of such films: Everyone dies, more or less, leaving behind the footage that comprises the movie. Since the victims typically include whoever was operating the camera, those deaths are frequently only suggested—leading to endings that are a tad more abrupt and ambiguous than what one normally encounters in low-budget horror fare.
Not everyone loves such endings. But The Devil Inside does something nearly everyone seems to hate—something that has prompted howls, groans, and boos from audiences around the country. (For now, at least, you can see the very ending of the movie—and, what’s much more interesting, one audience’s reaction to it—on YouTube.)
What makes the ending so bad? And is it the worst movie ending of all time? Fair warning: Answering these questions requires that we spoil the ending completely.
The Devil Inside is about a woman who, in 1989, killed three priests. Supposedly, she was possessed; pleading insanity, she ended up in a Catholic psychiatric hospital near the Vatican. The woman’s daughter decides to make a documentary about possession (The Devil Inside is presented as the footage filmed for that project), and goes to see her mother for the first time in twenty years. Long (-ish; the movie’s about 90 minutes) story short: The woman is actually possessed by multiple demons; said demons jump into her daughter, the priests she’s working with, and the man helping her film the documentary. In the film’s final scene, that man is driving the daughter to see an exorcism expert in Rome when he demonically decides to swerve into oncoming traffic, presumably killing them both.
So: fairly abrupt ending. And, by most accounts, the movie is quite bad until this point; whatever good will a director needs in order to put over a surprising ending is presumably long gone. (The Devil Inside managed the apparently unprecedented feat of both winning the weekend in box office terms and getting an F from CinemaScore, which tracks audience reaction.)
But what appears to take audience anger about The Devil Inside to another level is a title card that appears right after that seemingly fatal car crash: “The facts surrounding the Rossi case remain unresolved,” it reads. “For more information about the ongoing investigation visit www.TheRossiFiles.com.”
Plenty of movies have unpopular endings. No Country for Old Men ended too abruptly for some; A.I.: Artificial Intelligence didn’t end abruptly enough. (One Slate staffer told me the audience he saw the latter with groaned audibly during the last several minutes.) Twist endings don’t always go over too well—especially when the twist is “it was all a dream” or when people you thought were alive turn out to be dead. (Another Slate staffer declared that all M. Night Shyamalan movies have dubious endings.)
But the title card at the end of The Devil Inside provides a marketing twist that makes audiences feel taken advantage of. (The website advertised at the end of the movie extends the faux-documentary conceit in a manner now familiar from viral marketing campaigns for similar movies.) The closest analogue may be Clue, which was shown with different endings in different theaters: The studio reportedly hoped people would go see the movie in other theaters to see all the different endings. This idea was widely mocked, and the movie was a flop.
Clue rebounded on video, though—the VHS version included all the endings—and now has a bit of a cult following. Somehow I doubt the URL that closes The Devil Inside will be similarly redeemed.