After being subjected to a trailer for The Devil Inside while watching TV on Christmas day, I got to thinking: Why are exorcism films always about Catholics, never charismatic evangelicals, even though demons and exorcisms figure more prominently in the lived religion of the latter?
An obvious answer is that exorcism films are a modern twist on the Gothic horror genre, which historically is grounded in Catholic imagery filtered through a Protestant imagination. But as an academic, I have a self-preserving professional instinct to problematize easy answers (what would I have to write about otherwise?). So let me toss this idea out there:
Part of the mystique of The Devil Inside is its claim to be based on a true story. Well, if you want ostensibly true stories about exorcism, charismatic evangelicals can provide them in spades. Two problems, though.
First, those stories wouldn’t involve the deliciously dark aesthetic afforded by bringing Catholicism into the picture: a mysterious, foreign, hierarchical institution; the suspicion of cover-ups; arcane historical lore; formal rites involving material props like holy water and maybe some spoken Latin. You’d lose the Gothic aura, in other words.
The second, and bigger, problem with making a “true story” movie based on exorcism among charismatic evangelicals is that it would be a movie about charismatic evangelicals. It would be a movie about people like those you see in televangelism. It wouldn’t be about sophisticated Northeasterners or Europeans. For that reason, I hypothesize, producers would worry that they couldn’t sell the story to audiences: audiences wouldn’t be able to identify with the protagonists or to achieve the suspension of disbelief necessary to immerse themselves enjoyably in the story. The premise would just seem absurd, as televangelism seems absurd.
Such, I reiterate, is how I imagine producers imagining that audiences would respond. For certain audiences, of course, such a film would be thoroughly plausible and relate-able. But those audiences aren’t the public that major film studios have in mind as they craft their cultural products.
What I’m intrigued to know is: Do charismatic evangelicals who practice exorcism find a film like The Devil Inside plausible? Would its Gothic anti-Catholic overtones resonate with them? Alternatively, would they see the film as trivializing the reality of demonic possession–or as glorying in darkness?