The Devil Inside, Paramount's latest found footage film, earned an astonishing 35 million dollars. That's a great return on the studio's investment; they bought the film for one million dollars and spent probably around 15 million or so marketing it (that's an educated guess - it's quite possible they spent more). But while the movie made bank, audiences despised the film - there were reports of crowds booing at the end of the movie (I experienced this first hand at a showing in Hollywood) and The Devil Inside earned a very rare F from Cinemascore, the company that grades films based on audience exit polls.
What this boils down to is that nobody wants to see The Devil Inside 2. Instead of creating the next money-printing Paranormal Activity franchise, Paramount pulled a short con. They tricked people into coming to the theater this weekend and then ran off home with all their money - it's like when a guy in Washington Square park sells NYU freshman a bag full of baking soda for 50 bucks. People won't be fooled twice, and so The Devil Inside is probably done. I wouldn't be surprised if it has a massive 70% drop next week. The studio opted for short term income over long term planning.
But why does everybody hate the movie so much? I think it all boils down to one terrible idea on Paramount's part, an idea they thought was super clever but which feels like a big, grinning 'fuck you' to the audience. Obviously spoilers follow.
In the final scenes of The Devil Inside the four main characters are dealing with the fallout of what seemed to be a successful exorcism. But thing aren't great; they're all irritable and acting strange. Further investigation reveals that the subject of the exorcism didn't have one demon in her but rather four, a multiple demonic possession (which the film keeps explaining like it's some sort of arcane jargon). And as the movie clumsily set up in the first act, multiple demonic possessions can lead to transference, where the exorcists gets possessed (ie, the film is stealing the end of The Exorcist).
One of the characters kills himself, while another goes into seizures and then kills a nurse at the hospital. The two remaining characters are rushing her to see the head honcho exorcist in Rome when the guy driving suddenly unbuckles his seat belt and swerves into oncoming traffic. They're hit by a truck, we see a bunch of inside the car shots of them flipping around, and then the car comes to a rest....
And the screen goes black and a title card comes up reading (and I'm paraphrasing here, but it's pretty close): "The facts of the Rossi case have never been fully established. To follow the continuing investigation, visit TheRossiFiles.com."
Cue boos and the director's credit.
The Devil Inside is a terrible film, made by untalented people who have no feel for cinema, but it's no worse than a zillion other movies that get released. And the ending, frankly, isn't any worse than the non-endings of a bunch of other found footage films, including the granddaddy of the modern genre, The Blair Witch Project. But it's that title card - that fucking title card! - that's upsetting everybody.
The title card, apparently, was Paramount's idea. At least that's who director Brent Bell blames in an interview with Bloody Disgusting, saying, I don't think we ever expected that Paramount would release a film with something quite as bold as the way the movie ends. And their idea was this website, and we thought it was kind of cool to continue the story on this website, nobody's ever done it before. Good or bad, it's kind of unique."
What Paramount and the filmmakers failed to understand was that the title card feels like a cheat. All found footage films end in a sudden climax where everybody dies and the ending is sort of left open, and while The Devil Inside's ending is an immensely lame version of that, it's still a version of that. Without the text audiences would have been more or less okay with the movie.
As it stands, though, the text reads like Paramount is directing you to a website to see the end of the film. That isn't the case - the website is really just some immensely boring viral marketing crap that you usually see BEFORE a movie, not after. The movie's ending is the ending, and there isn't some secret reel of footage to be discovered. But by the time anyone discovers that it's far too late - they already hate the film.
This, by the way, is the inherent danger of transmedia, something which tends to really only appeal to obsessives and marketing people. Transmedia is a story that continues over multiple platforms, such as video games, websites or cartoons. The problem with transmedia is that most audience members don't want to be bothered seeking out the rest of the story; they want to consume the story in one sitting in one format. There will be some diehards who seek out The Animatrix or The Blair Witch websites, but most people want to go see a movie and get everything there. There's a contract between audience and studio that we will accept a certain level of open-endedness to facilitate sequels, but nobody wants to pay ten bucks or more just to be told the rest of the story must be purchased elsewhere. The audience sees that as cheating.
If Paramount had simply saved the bit about TheRossiFiles.com for later in the credits (or not bothered at all - as stated above, TheRossiFiles site is just totally standard marketing glurge), audiences probably wouldn't have reacted with such hostility. The film probably wouldn't have earned an F from Cinemascore, and a sequel might seem more plausible*. I doubt anybody would have loved the movie, but the ending would have felt simply like a shitty ending, not a breaking of the basic moviegoing contract.
This bit of audience anger at transmedia makes you wonder how The Dark Tower would do if the first film ended with the title card 'Continued on television this fall.' Would there still be boos? Or could audiences be trained to expect that, like with the Lord of the Rings movies**? Of course The Devil Inside isn't really a transmedia film, so maybe we shouldn't be making any judgments based on a cash-in piece of shit.
* I suppose they could always go ahead with it, but that feels like it's courting disaster.
** And even then it didn't always take. My first time seeing Fellowship of the Ring ended with the guy in front me saying 'That's IT?' as the film went to credits.