Monday, January 9, 2012

"Why Everybody Hates The Ending Of THE DEVIL INSIDE"

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"

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 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.


  1. I agree, but it's not surprising. Looking at the financials, this film is a success even with such bad reviews. The marketing, which in itself a version of transmedia, worked brilliantly. Will be an equally bad sequel? Sure. Who can resist such an ROI?

    Instead of booing the screen, we theater-goers need to read and trust the reviews, and send these films to the hell they deserve.

  2. Regarding there being an audience for a sequel, as someone once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice.... won't get fooled again."

  3. I dislike web based transmedia as I don't feel it's fair. Not everyone is on the internet and as I well know from working in the library, other than people who just don't understand how to use a computer, some people flat out refuse to.

    Not to mention are they really going to keep that website up years from now? Changing it as technology changes? Making sure that all the links work? Look out people are still fans of movies long after everyone in them has died. Like Tod Browning's Freaks or Dracula. Even awful movies have their followings. Are you really telling me someone is going to be employed to keep The Blair Witch Project's website up and running one hundred, even two hundred years from now?

    They need to think more long term as well as think of people who don't use/understand computers. Or don't own one. Just like I'm getting annoyed because my favorite authors are releasing more and more parts of their series as e-books, even just the short stories, and I don't own, nor want to own, an e-reader, so too must movie companies stop assuming everyone has a computer, knows how to use a computer, or even wants to know.

    I won't get started on the comic books as I enjoy comic books and even collect them. I will state though that I know some people who hate them and some who don't actually understand how to read them. Again, something I know from library work as Dean Koontz is releasing prequels to his Odd Thomas series as graphic novels.

  4. Ug. I meant "Look HOW people" not "Look OUT people" - I think I was probably thinking of the words "Looking out for" - I really need to learn to proof read.

  5. That's what I get for trying to comment early in the AM, apparently I didn't hit the ever important "publish" button.

    My point was pretty simple. I'm not crazy about transmedia, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.

    As you noted, Cloverfield did it in a way that left you feeling like your initial movie viewing experience was incomplete. That's bad transmedia.

    For an example of good transmedia, one has to look no further than the Harry Potter franchise. Additional content found in related texts or on web communities was designed to offer fans more to enjoy, not the last part of the initial experience. The films stand on their own as a complete experience, otherwise I imagine someone would have taken to a blog and ranted about how they felt cheated.

    The reason I think transmedia won't go away anytime soon is simple: $$$.

    You sell a bunch of tickets, DVD's, television rights, and some merchandise. But the product grows old when there's not another film or book to look forward to. Transmedia creates vibrant online content and communities that keep it fresh and keep the dollars rolling in (whether through ads, merchandise, book sales, etc.). If it's really good, it's free evangelization for your product for many, many years to come.

  6. I think it could have worked potencially in TV series (with a DVR one can stop the show grab a smartphone and continue the narrative online).

    Two reasons for booing:
    1) 100% agree with an idea that many people choose not to do transmedia - not only because of differences in media consumption, but also because there are only 24 hours in a day and when considering work, kids, groceries etc.etc. there is not much incentive/time to follow the rabbit hole for some Lost-type mystery.
    2) I think marketers and Hollywood folks should go back to more seductive way of encouraging viewers to do transmedia.

    Slapping a title card would be equivalent to Star Wars or Harry Potter ending with a list of merchendise you can purchase online.

    I WILL buy a guide to The Inception because the movie made me hungry for more (esp. forums that could explain it all).

    But ending a movie with a SEE MORE ONLINE is nothing but a cheap GoDaddy commercial during the Super Bowl.

  7. Not everyone has a smartphone, Madison. I don't. I have a very basic cellphone. I don't even WANT a smartphone. I barely like using a phone to make phone calls. Why the heck would I spend extra to have features I'd never use?

    No, I stand by my "Transmedia isn't fair" statement. Not everyone can afford a computer. Not everyone wants a smartphone. Not everyone can understand comic books. Everything should be made to stand alone and transmedia should only be extras no one needs.

  8. I feel like I'm the only person who actually liked this movie. I admit the ending kind of pissed me off, and I'm not even referring to the website part, I would have been okay with that if not for the ending. They all died, every single person in the movie that actually cared about "the rossi file" dies in the end, so why would I believe there was an ongoing investigation? Maybe if they ended it a little differently I would have gone on the website(for shits and giggles)
    But the number one thing that pissed me off about this movie(and every other one like it) is the fact that they try to play it off like real footage(which it obviously isn't. C'mon people aren't that stupid are they?