A micro-budget, no-stars horror movie looks likely to spark another spate of similar films.
18 Jan 2012 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 10:33 PM

Just when it seemed the era of no-budget, faux-documentary style horror movies may be fading after three editions of Paranormal Activity, a surprise US hit looks certain to spawn a bunch of copycat movies.

Shot for less than $US1 million, exorcism tale The Devil Inside stunned the US film industry when it opened at No. 1, raking in $33.7 million.

That was despite a terrible mauling from the critics – reflected in its 6 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and a rare F grading from CinemaScore, the market research company which polls patrons as they exit cinemas on the opening night.

Normally a C grading signifies a failure and only five films had been tagged with an F – the George Clooney bomb Solaris and horror movies The Box, Wolf Creek (that's a bit harsh!), Darkness and Bug.

Paramount picked up the rights to the movie, directed and co-written by William Brent Bell, and it'll open here on March 1, a market where horror movies historically don't perform as strongly as in the US.

Featuring a no-name cast of Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth and Suzan Crowley, it follows a young American woman as she tries to find out why her mother was committed to a hospital for the criminally insane in Italy two decades earlier.

The Hollywood Reporter's review accused the filmmakers of “trotting out the same predictable twisting heads and psycho-babble without a whiff of originality or discernible visual flair” and opined the “would-be thriller proves as scary and unsettling as a slab of devil's food cake — only considerably less satisfying.”

The Los Angeles Times cruelly observed
, “The story doesn't climax or resolve so much as just stop — a recruited audience member at a local premiere/critics preview was overheard saying, 'That was it?'"

Predictably word-of-mouth has been dire and the film was projected to have dropped by as much as 77 per cent over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend, which would bring its tally to a more than respectable $47.3 million.

However, the US studios and independent producers sit up and take notice when any movie earns more than 30 times its production cost on the opening weekend.

Warner Bros. is fast tracking The Vatican, a conspiracy thriller to be directed by Bell, which will feature some of the same “found-footage techniques”.

Bell and his Devil Inside co-writer/producer Matthew Peterman also have set up a horror movie with Sierra/Affinity and Incentive Filmed Entertainment to be shot in Romania starting in April, again in a pseudo-documentary style.

Last week, Universal Pictures gave the greenlight to Vigilandia, a low-budget futuristic thriller written and directed by James DeMonaco, produced by Paranormal Activity's Jason Blum and Platinum Dunes' partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form.

Bell is a firm advocate of the “found footage” technique, telling MTV, “We love this whole space, because you can work with really talented people and aren't beholden to a great deal of money and take more chances. There are only so many stories you can tell, so to be able to tell a story in a unique way, this kind of documentary style allows us to do that. We certainly want to continue down that path. It gives audiences something different.”

Deadline.com's Mike Fleming sees a danger in the studios' increasing appetite for cheaply-produced material, declaring, “While the Paranormal Activity films and Insidious have been highly profitable crowd pleasers, if studios refocus their attention on these down and dirty films, don't expect the quality of movie making to get any better in 2012 than it was last year.”