The "found-footage" horror film The Devil Inside really cleaned up at the box office this weekend. Though it cost Paramount only $1 million to acquire, they took home $35 million in their first weekend alone. This was tempered a bit by the fact that CinemaScore announced that the film earned a very rare F from audience members.
I did not see this film, as any desire to check it out was immediately quashed by the overwhelmingly negative buzz. Friday I saw no fewer that four major articles that were so angry at this film, the writers were practically spitting blood. Twitter reinforced that, and once I learned the ending - which I will not reveal in detail - I understood why. The ending alone is stupid enough, but what compounds that is that immediately after an out-of-the-blue finish, a title card comes up telling people they can "follow the continuing investigation at TheRossiFiles.com."
People at free screenings were apparently booing the film. That's just remarkable.
I started to compose a post about the reason why this ending is so stupid, but then I found that Devin Faraci from BadAssDigest.com had already beaten me to it.
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.
I'm with Devin on this one. I HATE transmedia almost as much as I hate people who LOVE transmedia. I've got no particular beef with J.J. Abrams, but it annoyed the hell out of me a few years ago when Cloverfield tried to play the transmedia card. If you see the movie, you walk out with no real understanding of where the monster came from, why it was attacking New York, what it is, etc. At the time, I was told that if I wanted any of those answers, I should take to the web and head down the rabbit hole that Bad Robot had dug for curious viewers. I refused to take part in it. As a work, a movie should stand alone.
An audience shouldn't have to seek out "extended universe" tie-ins in order to get closure on particular elements. I don't see anything wrong with having such things that enhance the film (the last Star Trek film had a tie-in comic book miniseries that led into the film, but I've spoken to dozens of viewers who enjoyed and understood the film while remaining completely ignorant of the existence of said tie-in) but the audience should never feel like the tail is wagging the dog in those cases. Rightly or wrongly, that's what The Devil Inside audience felt, and that's the fault of the filmmakers.
Transmedia can't shoulder the entire weight of the blame here, though. I think the problem is that the ending sequence played as if the filmmakers were grasping for an ending. Several reviews have called it "abrupt," but another issue might be that it presents a non-supernatural solution to a supernatural problem. In The Exorcist, it probably would have seemed like a cheat if, say, an earthquake caused Regan's bedroom to collapse on her, killing her in the process. That's not exactly what The Devil Inside does, but it's in the same neighborhood.
What you should take from this is that your ending matters. A film should conclude, not merely stop. A bad ending can erase all good will, and a terrible ending overshadows anything else about the film.