Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Mark Haber
Writer: Douglas Segal
Producer: Jeffrey Hayes, Joseph McKelheer, Douglas Segal
Stars: Tim Phillipps, Vivian Dugre, Chris Yule, Cory Knauf, Ary Katz, Colleen Donovan, Stephan Smith Collins, Challen Cates, Christopher Devlin, Elise Eberle, David Goldman, Andres Perez-Molina
A paranormal investigation into the mysterious death of one man’s sister uncovers a disturbing link to demonic possession.
When Patrick’s sister Abby loses her mind on a Roman holiday and attacks the pope, her family has Abby committed to a mental ward. Several years later, Abby is found hanging from the ceiling fan of her halfway house bedroom and bearing satanic symbols carved into her skin. Patrick believes that something more sinister than schizophrenia is to blame for his sister’s death, so he enlists a ghost hunting reality TV show to investigate. Of course, what they uncover is that Patrick’s suspicions were right on the money. Now the five of them must contend with an evil entity that has the power to transfer its spirit into anyone, and none of them know who will be next.
“Chasing the Devil” is certainly up to the usual tricks expected of the now commonplace “found footage” format, although the movie boasts a genuine story that makes it a more entertaining watch than a vast majority of its first-person brethren. Yet while it is a plotline that is conceived well enough for the most part, there is an “oh c’mon” factor in the way it unfolds that leaves a little something to be desired.
It is almost ironic that a demon who can switch host bodies at will and cause people to commit murder and suicide turns out to be the least unbelievable detail about the story. “Chasing the Devil” comes together as a mystery requiring the five-person paranormal investigation team to uncover the demon’s identity, its intent, and the truth connecting several previous cases of possession. Luckily for their quintet, it just so happens that one of them speaks Latin, one reads Hebrew, and another concludes off the top of her head that a six-digit sequence must be a social security number with the three-digit state prefix omitted. This demon either has mad respect for their uncanny deductive reason skills, or it is going through an amazing amount of trouble to leave a ridiculous clue trail like some satanic version of The Riddler.
Almost as amazing as what these characters are serendipitously able to do when the script calls for it is what they do when dire circumstances warrant a much different action. During a demonic confrontation with her possessed daughter, a mother has her arm broken so badly that the bone juts out from her flesh. She moans a bit, wraps her wound in fabric, and the rest of the scene plays to its resolution with nary a mention of the crippling injury. Granted, she has a devil in her daughter to contend with, but once it leaves, shouldn’t someone be making a move to take this woman to a hospital?
Patrick has a similarly juggernaut-like pain threshold. Bible verse numbers are branded into his chest with a deep-scarring sizzle as the crafty demon drops yet another breadcrumb. Afterwards, investigator Becky dabs rubbing alcohol on Patrick’s torso-sized gaping wound with a washcloth before he suits up with a chest-mounted GoPro like nothing ever happened.
There have been more than enough “found footage” films at this point that there is no excuse for sticking so closely to the preordained formula that all of the typical missteps are followed as well. Among the structural problems of “Chasing the Devil” is the dilemma of how to fill an hour and a half of runtime when actual action only constitutes a third of that.
“Paranormal Activity 2” (review here) proved how dreadfully dull it is to loop through a cycle of surveillance cameras while people sleep, yet “Chasing the Devil” does it anyway. There is also an inordinate amount of filler footage featuring non-events like each team member undressing for bed, which has no narrative bearing since the premise of the footage is that it exists to exonerate Patrick as police evidence. In that context, what sense do these filler sequences make?
One particularly yawn-inducing minute waster is a boring aside with a biblical literature professor providing exposition on the basic tenets of demonic possession. These are background gaps that do not even exist considering everyone in the audience has likely seen “The Exorcist” before. But a bigger problem than the disposable pointlessness is how such a scene highlights the film’s greatest flaw: overblown acting.
The professor does not come off as a knowledgeable academic spouting meaningful facts for a legitimate documentary, but as an actor relishing his role of providing ominous portents with staged line delivery and a deliberate folded-hands posture. The overacted phoniness permeating the performances is impossible not to notice when bugged out eyes and scrunched up faces create melodrama so inflated that it fosters guffaws instead of tension.
“Chasing the Devil” is just as obvious in where it hides the seams and the puppet strings of its CGI enhancements. Some effects, such as a sudden suicidal eye stabbing, work as intended and are executed with zeal. Others are overly conspicuous in their attempts at misdirection, like a shot of a blood-dripping wall that goes out of its way to not tilt up to the ceiling. Meanwhile, nearly every scene of someone supernaturally pulled or thrown across a room is preceded by a whip pan or camera twitch concealing an edit.
Three out of five stars is a generous score for a film that is deficient in key areas like acting, scene arrangement, and polished digital effects. “Chasing the Devil” redeems itself partly because much of its “found footage” competition is still inferior. But the movie earns far more extra credit due to the fact that above all else, “Chasing the Devil” has a genuine story that makes its 90 minutes engaging and interesting.
“Chasing the Devil” is a more complete “found footage” horror film about demonic possession than “The Devil Inside” (review here) was with its disappointing non-ending. No, it is not as tight as it needs to be and the setup can be downright frustrating with its logic leaps and theater stage delivery, but it is professionally crewed and photographed. For as much derision as the technical drawbacks and scripting shortcuts earn, the earnest attempt at a legitimate story wins back forgiving favor as a movie that at least has something to say, even if it bobs and weaves while saying it.
Review Score: 60