If you took The Exorcist and surgically removed every hint of personality, you would wind up with a movie very similar to Along Came the Devil. It’s not hard to understand why so many filmmakers try to do their own take on The Exorcist. It’s a great film with an easy to copy premise: a child (usually a girl who’s beginning puberty or a young woman who is becoming sexually active) unknowingly invites in a demon. There is havoc and a medical search for answers. Ultimately, only a faith based exorcism can save the possessed and it does at a cost. So many films following that siren song crash on the rocks of complexity.
The Exorcist is good because it has well-rounded, complex characters. Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a movie star who doesn’t believe in God (a bigger deal in 1973 than now). She’s remaking Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and going through a messy divorce while trying to raise her daughter. Father Karras (Jason Miller) is an ex-boxer with a Psychiatry MD who blames himself for his mother’s death. He’s struggling with his belief in God. They’re conflicted and they have lives outside of that conflict.
Along Came the Devil has replaced them with Tanya Winbourne (Jessica Barth) and Pastor John (Matt Dallas). Tanya’s career is unclear, but she stands in front of a wall of paintings, helps people, and answers phone. She could be a sales clerk or a hotel receptionist or an art dealer, but the movie isn’t interested in those kinds of details. Pastor John is fresh out of the seminary and in one scene talks about photography. They’re vehicles to tell a story, not well-rounded characters.
While these kinds of details may seem trivial, they add to a movie’s inventory and give the scary moments personality.
For example, in The Exorcist, MacNeil hosts a party. Because she’s famous all kinds of dignitaries attend, including an astronaut. It sets up for one of the film’s scariest moments: Regan (Linda Blair) comes down the stairs, points at him, and intones, “You’re going to die up there” while pissing on the floor.
Ditto with Father Karras. At one point the demon speaks to him as his mother, mimicking her: “Why you do this to me, Dimi?” Because the audience knows that Karras is struggling with that guilt, the moment hits so much harder. Along Came the Devil kept that scare without the impact. Ashley (Sydney Sweeney) yells in Spanish during her exorcism, but to what end? It felt like director Jason DeVan was ticking off a checkbox, not genuinely trying to scare his audience.
The characters in the movie talk about The Exorcist as well. Ashley’s best friend Hannah (Madison Lintz) says, “Once Regan used the Ouija board to invite Captain Howdy in, she was fucked.” That was all well in good, but in the movie Hannah preceded to convince Ashley to perform a seance. The character who warns about the danger isn’t believable as the person who pressures the protagonist into that same danger. “Watch out for that quicksand,” she said, then, “Let’s jump in the quicksand.” It doesn’t work.
Neither does most of this movie. Along Came the Devil has replaced The Exorcists powerful scares with dozens more, and the quantity doesn’t make up for the quality. It’s not that those are bad, because they’re fine for the most part—there are even some original ones in there. It’s that the scares in this movie have nothing to do with the story. They’re there for the sake of being there.
The movie claims that it’s based on true events, which it may be, but doesn’t excuse the narrative shortcomings and the poor dialogue.
Will someone please exorcise the demon that makes filmmakers because they can make a possession movie as good as The Exorcist? (Says the guy who’s trying to sell a book that reimagines The Exorcist in an Atheist world).
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Jason DeVan
Writer(s): Jason DeVan, Dylan Matlock, Heather DeVan
Stars: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Lintz, Jessica Barth, Matt Dallas
Release: August 10, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: DeVan Clan Productions