Hollywood's latest horror movie dealing with demonic possession and exorcism scared up some serious cash last weekend. But occult experts say the film "The Devil Inside" doesn't take its subject matter as seriously as it deserves.
HollywoodReporter.com announced this morning that "The Devil Inside" has earned $34.5 million since opening Friday, giving it the record gross for this weekend in January. It tells the story of Isabella Rossi (played by Fernanda Andrade), a demonology documentarian exploring her mother Maria's (played by Suzan Crowley) exorcism two decades earlier. Examining her mother's malady in the Vatican, Rossi's safety veers off into death and destruction as she digs deeper into the occult.
John Ramirez, author of Out of the Devil's Cauldron: A Journey from Darkness to Light, said the film's success wasn't surprising given society's fascination with the occult. Unfortunately, the former Santeria high priest said spiritual warfare shouldn't exist as popular culture. Having encountered demonic possession and exorcisms firsthand, he said they were harrowing experiences rather than popcorn entertainment.
"If the Devil can oppress you, he can possess you," Ramirez said. "I have seen possessed people who foam at the mouth, who have had their faces transform or even have unnatural strength. The Devil is weakening people's spirits when they see movies like this. It hurts Christian faith and keeps unbelievers away from the cross."
Horror movies have such mass appeal, Ramirez said, as people crave the otherworldly. Satan realizes this, he continued, and thus inspires people to seek a glimpse of the supernatural in the world around them. The danger of looking too far into the abyss, Ramirez revealed, is that the abyss can look back at the viewer.
"The Devil is like a great attorney," he said. "He presents the same case to you in a number of different ways to entrap you. He has all these tactics but only one goal, and that's destroying you."
Paul Asay, an associate editor for Focus on the Family's entertainment publication Plugged In, said that "The Devil Inside" was the latest in a long line of Hollywood horror flicks exploiting demonic exorcisms for cheap scares. Watching it last weekend to write a movie review, he said the only thing it did well was evaluate evil and the terror with which it can fill lives.
"Films like these, if nothing else, remind us that evil is more than a construct of the mind; a brain imbalance or a relativist point of view," Asay said. "Evil is real, tangible and means us harm. Moreover, that evil uses the evil in all of us – our own sins and temptations – to find a foothold in our lives."
Dr. Karl Payne, author of Spiritual Warfare: Christians, Demonization and Deliverance, said such portrayals of evil shouldn't frighten Christians as Christ delegates authority to believers over demons. A film like "The Devil Inside" is misleading, he argued, given it shows good and evil battling on a level playing field. In reality, any Christian can conquer the forces of darkness with biblical knowledge, caution and staunch faith in Christ.
"The threat or possibility of demonization is very real," Payne said. "You don't have to fear demons so long as you're approaching them in the delegated authority of Christ. Christ has already won this thing."
Asay added that although he wouldn't recommend "The Devil Inside," he did appreciate its stance on sin. The film's real horror, he said, lies in how life looks without God's grace. Given Jesus is forgiving and kind, he said it's an easy obstacle to overcome.
"For me, whether or not the exorcisms here are presented accurately, they're a great metaphor for what happens to us when we're without (or spurn) God’s love, forgiveness and healing grace," Asay said. "Our sins fester. They breed doubt and shame and fear. We lose sight of who God wants us to be and throw ourselves wide open to the worst influences imaginable."