The Devil Inside is the talk of the town for two reasons: number one, it made around $35 million in its opening weekend, which is big no matter what qualifier you tack on, but when that qualifier is a reported $1 million acquisition cost, it’s gigantic. Number two (heheh), it sucks. It sucks bad.
That’s nothing new, really, as everything about The Devil Inside screams shitty movie. First of all, it’s from the team that brought you Stay Alive. Second, it’s found footage. Third, it’s an exorcism movie. I’m surprised that people went to see it, because you list those three qualities and I am about as far from interested as possible.
But rather than just throw another voice on the “what the fuck” bonfire, I wanted to take a few minutes and examine what we can learn from this situation.
First, CinemaScore is apparently both useless and broken. For those of you that don’t know, CinemaScore is market research firm that uses test audiences to grade movies and then predict their box office. The Devil Inside accomplished the rare feat of being granted a CinemaScore of F. CinemaScore says that any film getting a C is generally going to be a failure, while films that achieve the F rating are disasters that shouldn’t even be released. The Devil Inside marks only the sixth time a film has been given an F rating.
Clearly, we can see that the CinemaScore is not always accurate; you don’t finish first with over $34 million if your film is a failure that shouldn’t have been released in the first place. Further, when the grade breakdown was revealed, mathematically speaking The Devil Inside seemed that it should have been ranked somewhere around a C. Now, what exactly goes into the decision of the final grade we don’t know, but it would seem that this system is far from perfect.
We also learn from this experience that audiences love horror, but more narrowly, audiences love original or new horror. It doesn’t matter that The Devil Inside is just another in a long line of shitty exorcism movies because it is, at least, not a sequel, prequel, or remake. Horror movies traditionally make good money at the box office, especially original movies which tend to be lower budget, as their margin for success is considerably lower. If you look at the career of Rob Zombie, his small films come in under $10 million and generally make more than $12 million domestically. I find this relevant as his small films don’t have wide audiences and are a bit off kilter, yet people want original horror. You can contrast this with a bigger budget prequel/remake from 2011, The Thing, which opened around $8 million and finished near $16 million with a production budget of almost $40 million.
I think it would be smart to take away from this that original movies fare better than remakes or sequels and that smaller budgets can generate good returns. In the case of The Devil Inside, the minuscule budget is unknown, but it’s said that it was acquired for a price of $1 million. If I were a gambling man, I’d say that puts the filming costs of the film below $250,000. Obviously a fair bit of money was spent in the advertising, which paid off to the tune of $34 million. No matter what accounting method you use, this film is in the black already.
Unfortunately, another lesson that we learned is that for some reason found footage movies are not shooing away audiences. This one I don’t get as I’m not a fan of a single one. I dug Cloverfield, but think it would have been far better as a regular movie. The Blair Witch Project didn’t blow me away, but it was pretty effective and among the best of the genre would probably be [REC]. Still, I generally think “found footage” is a gimmick that no one falls for – no one thinks this is real, so why do? I’m not just a fan of the method of story telling, I think it looks shitty and doesn’t make sense. In a movie like Cloverfield, why the fuck would anyone spend time getting reaction shots or point the camera away from the giant awesome monster tearing up the city? Found footage blows, but apparently it still earns.
I guess congratulations are in order to those involved with the movie – they pulled one off here, against all odds, this pile of shit won the weekend and made a lot of cash. There are valuable lessons to be learned from failure and success and the success of failures. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of films that are more deserving of an audience this wide and the fact that those films don’t get the support they need and the exposure causes me to projectile vomit my boiling point all over a holy man.