Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exorcism Double Feature

Feature 1: The Last Exorcism

History: The Last Exorcism was released in theatres on August 27th 2010. It wound up grossing just under $68 million worldwide making it a smashing success at being produced with a budget of only $1.8 million. A sequel was announced to be in the works as of late 2011 but with no updates since then. The film's director Daniel Stamm previously had experience in found footage films with A Necessary Death only a couple years earlier. The brother of a crew member was an actual exorcist and would work along side the director advising him. In the UK the film's poster depicting Nell, the girl possessed, bent over backwards with a cross hanging directly above her caused a lot of controversy. It was deemed offensive and eventually removed from public viewing.

Edition I Watched: Standard widescreen DVD.

Review: Found footage flicks date back farther than you may realize. One key example is The Blair Witch Project. Even earlier than that was The Last Broadcast which did something similar. But if you want to trail back even farther I would say to look toward Cannibal Holocaust. But it wasn't until Paranormal Activity that it was reinvented for the horror genre and brought it back in a big bad way (and I mean bad in many different ways). So it feels like part of the reason this one even exists is because of Paranormal Activity.
So what? It's not a big deal if a film isn't original, as long as it executes in a good way. As I displayed in the previous paragraph many films before Paranormal Activity did the whole found footage gimmick. What set them apart was their execution. As a hardcore horror fan I'm de-sensitized to a lot of the elements. So when Paranormal Activity hit me the way it did I knew it was something special, something fresh. Now that doesn't mean I went into The Last Exorcism with the same expectations. I know how easy it is to get shafted by an imitator. With that in mind I went into this one with lowered expectations. I was at least looking to get my money's worth of $1 as that's how much I bought the DVD for.
The one thing that bugs me more than anything else with the found footage type of film is the logic it uses with the camera. Sometimes the choices in where it's point at what times in certain context doesn't always make sense. The element is easy to get a person drawn in because of how it feels more grounded in reality than other films. However it's also easy to get pulled out wondering what the cameraman is up to or why he is point at what he is pointing at. This happens really easy cause if this were REAL found footage we may not see half of what is seen in these flicks because the actual cameraman would sooner forget about what they can get on camera and try instead to protect themselves from the terror they're recording. Usually these get a pass because it's about a film crew taping a documentary or something similar (such as documented evidence of a haunting ala Paranormal Activity) so usually the cameraman has intentions of capturing everything they can. This flick is certainly no exception, if anything they're more guilty than others of having a weird logic in what they shoot. Sure the first half was shot well because of the style of film they were going for. It included interviews and footage of church services the priest was performing as we get to know him better. It made sense to be put together the way it did. Even the scene when they first show up to Nell's home and do lots of on the fly shooting it looked good for what they were going for.
So far so good then. In a way that is the case. Sure it looks good for what they're trying to do but the problem right off the bat is that it's an okay story with some pretty poor writing and even worse acting. To put it right in the forefront I did not like Cotton, the priest who eventually performs the exorcism(s) in this story. He came off as really unlikable. A bit of a dick to be honest. He had what I felt like a pretty negative view of his profession, his congregation, and his faith as well. I realize the point of his documentary is to capture on tape a supposed exorcism but to expose it as a fraud "once and for all" he says. The way he goes about doing it, though feels so negative and demeaning. It's like he barely cares about his religion anymore but doesn't handle it respectively. Especially when you have an entire congregation following you depending on what you say and do to guide them.
Time to get to the brass tax, the possession, the exorcism, etc. This one takes waaaaaay too long to get to anything good when it comes to the exorcisms. The first exorcism was a fake one the priest put on to try and prove his point (I really don't like this guy) to be followed up by more talk and talk and talk. Talk is fine. I'm okay with talk. But I'm okay with talk when it's interesting. Like many exorcism tales before (and after) this one there comes in the doubt of whether or not it's all in the girls head. the crazy thing is that it pushes hard in both directions making the audience believe it really could be either of them. It's not in the way it's told, it's more confusing because details conflict and don't make sense. This is especially apparent toward the end of the story when it feels like the flick was going to end where it all was in her head the whole time. Spoilers, it doesn't turn out that way, but I'm sure you could have figured that one out.
What's ultimately wrong with this one is that it doesn't have a lot of scares and those scares aren't scary. I do like the parts late in the flick when it's the middle of the night, there's freaky symbols painted all over the walls, Nell has that dead look in her eyes while haunting the film crew, etc. That was pretty cool. But that's all it was, it was cool. It wasn't scary. This is a pretty poor example of horror with a few peaks here and there. Even the end when the shit REALLY hits the fan it wasn't that great. Not to mention that the end is a twist that was both expected but doesn't make sense. It felt like the ending was written in because that's what people do with this type of story. It was there because it was obligated to.
Not horrendous, it has it's moments, mostly Nell's creepy bending when the possession really takes over. It's just not great which makes this dollar purchase a less than mediocre attempt at a found footage style of horror.

Feature 2: The Devil Inside

History: The Devil Inside was released in threatres on January 6th 2012. I grossed $101 million worldwide and much like the previous film reviewed it was a huge success because of the small budget. However this one was produced with a mere $1 million. Outside of the hopes of mirroring the success of Paranormal Activity this film doesn't have much history behind it. The story was thought up by the writer and director after reading how the Vatican started a school for exorcisms. In the end this film was almost universally panned by critics.

Version I Watched: Rental copy from Redbox.

Review: I apologize in advance if this review has a lot of comparisons to the last one I reviewed, but it was hard to watch this without thinking of the other since I watched one, one day and the other the next day. The Last Exorcism was fresh in my mind. Very fresh. I also apologize for the lack of some details as I am unable to review my review since I don't actually own this one.
My expectations for this exorcism flick were even lower than they were for The Last Exorcism. The Devil Inside has received such incredibly harsh reviews from critics as well as the mass public. At the time of writing this review, it holds a 7% rating on rotten tomatoes. I think it's prime material for one of my favorite podcasts Yeah It's That Bad based on that number alone. I remember reading reviews, hearing buzz, almost all of it screamed this would be terrible. Yet something kept drawing me to it. Call it curiosity, I say it's that look in the nun's eyes on the other poster. So here I am finally getting to it. I would like to thank the redbox text club for letting me rent this one for free by the way. The only thing I had to lose was my time.
Right from the start this one is way more interesting. I love it when a film uses different film styles to properly execute the tone they want to convey. The pulled together TV reports and police records video looked so good and genuine. I was having flashbacks to the period the story starts out with the news reports. I also like how it started out with a 911 call to communicate the murders that start out the story. The film starts off with some real creepiness, it sets the tone, it lets you know what you're in for and it hits the ground running. I also liked how it got past the whole "Just letting you know, this is a documentary" portion of the story. It let us know that it's about the daughter of a woman who killed three people back during her own exorcism and is now held in an Asylum in Italy as she was found not guilty on a plea of insanity. So safe to say we're in for some more of the "it's all in her head" talk.
I'd like to take a technical turn here. Like I stated in my last review I like to study the logic of the use of the cameras in the found footage approach. In the first few minutes it already looked great cause of the flashback with the news reports. Then I felt like the cameras were used properly when it needed the focus in the right places. Also additional cameras were used, again logically, to capture what was needed. In their car they install cameras much like what would be seen in an actual documentary. Then in the exorcism scene with the girl's mother roughly halfway through the film there were cameras set up everywhere, many of which were for documenting the medical aspects of her changes, etc. It provided many angles to see it from a different perspective or better view when the standard shaky cam wasn't available. Then there was my favorite use of the camera. It captured important information in such an accidental way. It was late in the film. Throughout everyone was giving testimonials on how they feel about everything that's going on (It's actually a good way to develop the characters). A scene happens when Isabella (The daughter of the possessed woman) is giving a testimonial but is interrupted. Everything happens far in the background and off to the side. It looks excellent in my book. It's being portrayed exactly as found footage would be portrayed. They wouldn't have a crisp shot of everything. They would have awkward shots like this one.
Another thing is that it's pretty exciting. It's constantly moving forward without adding extra fluff to fill the gaps between scenes. This also means that there's more scenes with exorcisms and exorcism-like scenes with fright.
Okay, so the scares. I think this one had more wiggle room with the scares because of it's rating. When you're given the space of an R rating you can do more with scares. That doesn't mean a film has to be R or worse to be considered scary, but it does allow for more disturbing material in the long run. Granted a lot of the scares are more shocking than anything else. Thankfully not the standard jump scares. Just a couple key ones stick out in my mind. A graphic suicide is one of them, which happens right after the demon jumps into the older priest (oh yeah, the demon jumps from person to person). Then just before that when he starts acting strange there's a baptism scene where he attempts to drown the baby he's baptizing. That was easily the most disturbing scene of the film. But again these are both shocking if anything. Not as deeply disturbing as other more prolific horror films, but it'll stick with you for a few days. So while the scares are better than other horror like this, it still feels like something is lacking.
Which gets me to the overall quality. I think it's safe to say there were many ways this one could have a been a lot better. I'm not about to throw out "I don't understand all the hate." I do really think it is underrated, though, and doesn't deserve as much hate as it's getting. It's solid. Not as a rock, but it's solid. What it really could of used is more material within the film. This is a very short one. It comes in at a mere 75 minutes without the credits, and then the credits are 8 minutes in and of themselves. It also ends so short on such an abrupt note, too. Now, it would be okay if that's all the film had to say. If everything they wanted to show and say could fit in that short of a run time, fine, whatever. My problem with it is that this film has an entire website dedicated to expanding on the story. Now tell me this. Why on God's green earth couldn't they include at least SOME of what's on this website, which is advertised at the end of the film (, couldn't be in the film itself. It seems like so much more could have been expanded on within the film itself and still have plenty of material for the website for those curious enough. At least this way the people who are only experiencing what's in the film itself can go away feeling satisfied instead of left wanting more. I know I wanted more. I just don't know if I want to spend as much time, if not more, browsing through the website it told me to find more information on.
A worthy effort. I really did like this one. I liked it a lot more than I would. It's still not great. It has plenty of problems. It certainly won't stand the test of time. I imagine this will be looked at one day the same many people would look at the silly slasher flicks from the 80s. The Devil Inside is not terribly unique. It is a coal with a sparkle of diamond showing through. I only wish more shone through.

BONUS! I wound up watching a third exorcism flick!

Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers!

Review: This is one of many Asylum films that are almost all cheap knock offs of more popular titles. I remember this came out right around the same time as The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I was working at a Blockbuster at the time. I also remember thinking how it looks like a complete knock off of said film, which is the case when it comes to Asylum. Basically all of their knock offs I've seen have had many things in common. One of those things isn't quality. They're cheap, horrendously written, horrendously acted, the direction is horrible, and... you know what. The less said about this one the better. Just watch this:

But what can I say? I have a special place in my heart for cheese of this kind. I have at least 3 other Asylum films like this in my collection at the time of writing this.

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