61 Days of Halloween: The Last Exorcism

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Last Exorcism

I thought of a (American) football analogy as I was watching The Last Exorcism as the most apt description of the film. This film reminds me of a team driving down the field to win the game and taking the ball to the opposing one-yard line and then throwing an interception, or to put it otherwise, it’s a film that comes real close to doing something special but ruins it at the end.

The first thing that absolutely has to be said is that the cast of this film is just absolutely outstanding, pretty much pick a cast member and you weren’t likely to find a better fit for the part. Everyone knows who they are what the role demands and how to deliver it in spades, and this goes down to the smallest roles. It is indeed a rare treat to see acting of this caliber in a horror movie and it is most of what propels this film to the edge of greatness before it plummets of a cliff terribly. It is worth viewing for the performances alone.

The second thing this film does very well is that is convincingly portrays its story in a documentary/cinéma vérité style. It opens with a lot of exposition through questions and the thoughts of our protagonist Rev. Cotton Marcus. Then it morphs from Q & A mode to recording things as they happen.

The cinematography throughout manages to be rather good and economical in its movement, despite the ever-present handheld images. It is only on the rare occasion that things get wild and visual information is hard to interpret.

It’s like the metaphor above implies, the film does a lot right but it really botches it with its ending and in truth most if not all the weaknesses that drag it down are story-related.

While it is very effective, at times, for horror films to have their protagonists be non-believers this one takes it a bit too far and has Rev. Marcus steadfastly disbelieve what his eyes are seeing for far too long such that it’s out of character because a man that smart can’t be that stubborn for that long.

He believes there is no possession and continues to even though they have recordings of Nell (Ashley Bell) having a conversation with a person unknown in Latin, a language they have established she cannot speak. Nell also picks up the camera at one point and tapes herself attacking livestock. It’s never made clear whether they watched the footage, the ways the characters act towards the end make you think they did not. Yet the camera is found damaged and bloodied, they know she used it but they didn’t check the footage? It’s the first thing a cameraman would do.

Then there is the end where there are a few twists one of which is major and we see coming the other which we really don’t. The second of which is truly the extraneous, one in which the film is trying to be a little too clever for its own good. Also, the end does raise up a few more questions and is a bit frantic and the one place where things can be lost and that’s where you can’t afford to.

This is a film that has so much going for it on the technical end, but it was all in service to a story that could’ve been more tautly rendered and more well-told. Such a shame.

5/10

Review- The Devil Inside

Suzan Crowley in The Devil Inside (Paramount Insurge)

The possession, or exorcism film if you prefer, is not likely the most retreaded but definitely one of the more tired subgenres that horror has to offer. Despite the fact that I chose a film of this ilk as one of the best horror films last year it is an area wherein filmmakers have struggled as of late to cover any new ground whatsoever.

Interestingly this film also acts as a found footage/mockumentary. Unlike some I will not allow, whenever possible, one film to forever change my perception of a given subgenre. Found footage like anything else has its pros and cons; the biggest pro being immediacy and one of the biggest cons being uninspired cinematography. However, the found footage technique alone is not why this film fails just as it’s not the only reason The Blair Witch Project, [REC] and Lake Mungo work. The way it decides to use the technique is a failing but it’s not the only one.

Some examples besides the obvious are cutting around certain incidents rather than watching them happen live. Another is actually going the other direction than the subgenre usually goes, it’s actually over-edited and over-produced at times such that any chance it has of creating anything like simulacrum is squandered quickly.

The performances in the film are a bit too inconsistent, which is unfortunate because many of the incidents in the film are very low concept and restrained so more is needed from the actors. Typically Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth, the sometimes rogue priests, are fine but on occasion they were written into situations where they couldn’t avoid being unintentionally humorous.

Those characters in and of themselves are fine though, they make sense, the cameraman Michael (Ionut Grama), however, is an unnecessary disruption. His only functions as a character are to be a nuisance and act as cynic when Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade), the subject of the supposed doc, can serve that function.

It’s easy to appreciate the efforts this film makes to legitimize exorcism and possession both through scientific and theological means to those who would have trouble suspending disbelief. The effort can’t be reproached that badly it’s the clunkiness of how facts are introduced, finer points are debated and lastly church bureaucracy reveals itself that hurts the film’s credibility more than anything.

If you were to look at this film in terms of a meal it’d be one with myriad amuse bouche, hors d’œuvres and appetizers but not much of a main course. The attraction of an exorcism film is…exorcisms. There’s the hospital encounter and one later, both a brief and somewhat anti-climcatic. However, that’s not unusual many of the countless progeny of The Exorcist are underwhelming in this manner. I will admit that for most of its duration it’s a watchable bad film that even features a strong performance by Suzan Crowley. What then makes this movie so terrible?

It is the ending. A few things need to be said about it: first, even though I heard stories about how bad it was before I saw it, it was actually worst than advertised. Second, I refrain from re-writing in reviews but what angered me most was that I could feel the potential for a good 20-30 minutes coming, most could, there’s a satisfying conclusion to this film (good enough to redeem the whole thing) in some other dimension perhaps but sadly we weren’t shown it.

2/10

61 Days of Halloween- Amityville II: The Possession

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Amityille II: The Possession

Jack Magner in Amityille II: The Possession (Orion)

While it may have been very tempting after the great flashes to tell the tale that made the Amityville house infamous on this occasion the result is comically bad and it was a tale better left untold at least the way it transpires here. There still is potential here that is completely untapped.

Now while in the first installment you could draw comparisons to The Exorcist there was definitely a tenuous but definite line of delineation separating the two. Mainly being that the priest was never heavily involved in the families plight and couldn’t be. Oh yeah, that and there was no exorcism performed.

There are other issues though. One of the talking points of the original film was about how the patriarch of that family looked like the previous assassin. Now this film doesn’t establish any prior history with the house so we are left to assume, especially by the construct of the family and who the killer is, that this is a prequel. So not only are the actors poorly cast in terms of appearance and ability but it totally changes the series by having someone trying to save his immortal soul.

So you have all that going against this film as if the idea of combining a haunted house film and an exorcism plot in a bifurcated tale wasn’t hard enough to pull off. You also lose the subtlety that the first film had and you wonder why the family spends even one night there.

There is also not one character who remains likable through the whole film and but one scene where the struggle of our protagonist/antagonist is truly felt. There’s also a random incident of incest.

To continue listing this film’s faults would be pointless except to say that it is a painful and nearly interminable experience. If you make it through to the end you’ll find some very humorous effects work that was likely not intended that way, other than that it is best avoided.

2/10