I need an exorcism to expunge this demon inside me that keeps forcing me to watch exorcism films.
Case in point: The Vatican Tapes, yet another been-there-done-that effort that somehow managed to attract some notable stars. While Michael Pena, Djimon Hounsou, Kathleen Robertson and Dougray Scott aren’t exactly household names, they at least lend credence to a project — or so I thought.
The premise is as cookie-cutter as they come: a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is involved in an accident and suddenly starts acting all erratic and creepy. I wonder what could be the problem? Call the priests! The power of Christ compels you!
So what makes this possession movie different to its predecessors? Well, as stated explicitly at the start of the film, it’s the idea that the Vatican has a large collection of video and audio tapes of exorcisms it has conducted throughout history (which I think may have already been used in another movie).
While I loathe found footage films, I have to admit the premise seemed suitable for a found footage horror or faux documentary. The problem is, The Vatican Tapes is actually just a conventional horror flick with a few “security cam” scenes tossed in. And just in case we forget the name of the movie, the footage actually has “Vatican Tapes” printed on the bottom of the screen.
In other words, the so-called idea of the Vatican Tapes doesn’t have much to do with the story at all. It’s symbolic of the film’s muddled attempt to differentiate itself and ultimately not knowing what he hell it’s supposed to be. This is made abundantly clear as the film goes completely off the rails in its third act and takes the concept of demonic possession to another level.
Strangely, Kathleen Robertson (TV’s 90210 and Boss) gets top billing although she’s a supporting character who only occupies the middle chunk of the film. Djimon Hounsou is listed third but literally has a cameo, while Michael Pena and Dougray Scott are obviously just there for the cheques. Pena, in particular, playing a serious role for once, seems almost ashamed to be in it.
All of these issues would have been bearable had The Vatican Tapes actually been scary. Sadly, it doesn’t even get close to producing a single scare. Anything this film tries has been done a thousand times before, except better, and with a more effective atmosphere.
So that can only lead to one conclusion: The Vatican Tapes sucked balls. There probably have been worse exorcism films made, but at least they’ll be more memorable than this scareless, run-of-the-mill wannabe.
I had been really looking forward to Deliver Us From Evil, supposedly “inspired” by true events endured by a real NYPD sergeant by the name of Ralph Sarchie. With one of my favourite actors, Australia’s own Eric Bana in the leading role, I thought the film carried a lot of promise.
Sadly, despite Bana’s best efforts, Deliver Us From Evil disappoints on almost all levels. It starts off as an intriguing story about a cop struggling with his inner demons but soon becomes a far-fetched tale about “real” — and super powerful — demons possessing US war veterans.
The film does have its moments, with director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) pulling out his big bag of tricks to fuse a creepy atmosphere with traditional exorcism-related scares. It’s dark, moody and bloody, with an extended exorcism climax that works better than most similar efforts in recent years. Ultimately, however, Deliver Us From Evil fails to “deliver” due to several fundamental problems.
I did a bit of post-viewing research to confirm what I already suspected — that the term “inspired” is applied so loosely that the film’s pants are in danger of dropping down to its ankles. None of the stuff that happens in the film are based on real events chronicled by Sarchie in his book. I have no idea why they went down this route — perhaps the book is not very exciting– but the plot is so ludicrous that it feels a lot more than a comic book adaptation than anything resembling reality. This is a real shame because I would have much rather preferred strong execution of a dull story than dull execution of a silly story.
Apart from the plot, Deliver Us From Evil is actually also a very unpleasant film to watch, and I mean that in a bad way for a horror movie. Having dark tones and “visual grit” is one thing, but this film goes a little overboard with it. Throw in the flashing lights that almost gave me an epileptic fit and all the rapid-fire cuts, I felt like I really needed to give my eyes a good rest after watching the film.
Eric Bana does the best he can as Sarchie, though the limits of the material make him just yet another troubled cop with a dark past. We’ve seen too many of these “losing my faith” redemption stories for Sarchie to come across as anything special. Edgar Ramirez, who plays an unorthodox chain-smoking Spanish priest, is not your typical exorcist. He’s interesting for a while, though not interesting enough to be a truly memorable character. Olivia Munn plays the wife, and it’s sad to see such a beautiful, talented woman like her being relegated to such a thankless role.
I genuinely wish I liked Deliver Us From Evil more. With the exception of a couple of bright spots, however, this is a film that belongs well hidden in the shadows.
And we’re back to my 2012 movie blitz. And there’s a distinct horror flavour with this latest entry of four.
The Devil Inside (2012)
Another possession film, this time done in the form of a faux documentary.
A woman gets possessed and kills three clergy in an exorcism gone wrong, gets off on an insanity plea and is sent to a mental institution in Italy. Years later, her daughter is filming a documentary about exorcisms, and decides to head off to Rome to attend a class. There she meets a couple of other students and together they go to exorcisms and film everything. Typical exorcism stuff happens. The end.
To be fair, The Devil Inside started off really well and almost felt like a genuine documentary. It maintained my interest for a little while longer but then I just couldn’t stay interested in the film between the scary bits. It has less fillers than the film I am reviewing below this one, but by the end I didn’t really care any more what the heck was happening or why.
The scares, for the most part, were effective despite re-using tactics we’ve seen in such films a hundred times before. Crazy demon voices, thrashing around with superhuman strength, gross bodily functions and ugly faces I’m used to by now, but bodies bending over backward unnaturally still seem to get me every time. But the problem with these documentary/found-footage movies continues to be the need for a cameraman at all times, even when it made no sense why anyone would keep filming under the circumstances.
Ultimately, I think The Devil Inside probably belongs at the lower end of the exorcism movie spectrum. It has some decent moments but there is nothing fresh or creative about it apart from the documentary angle. And the ending — my goodness, the ending — is probably the worst of any movie I’ve seen in years.
2.25 stars out of 5
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
They’ve made a fourth one of these already? Maybe it’s because morons like me keep watching them. I didn’t like the original Paranormal Activity and I hated the two sequels to varying degrees. But I keep watching and I keep complaining anyway.
Paranormal Activity 4 is about as bad as the other ones, but to my surprise, not much worse, though some might argue that is impossible. It follows the events of the second film, I think. That big-boobed woman from the first one kills the couple from the second film, abducts their son, and moves across the street from the new protagonists. The kid is messed up (of course he would be) and starts hanging out with the new family. Weird stuff happens and the daughter (and her “boyfriend”) decide, naturally, to capture it all on film.
It’s more of the same formulaic crap — and it really is crap. Atrocious, unbearable, utter crap. Boring filler filler filler, fake scare, boring filler filler filler, fake scare, rinse and repeat until moronic climax where you can barely tell what is happening but everyone screams and dies. The most frightening thing about the whole movie is that at 99 minutes it feels way too long.
Paranormal Activity 5 is coming out early next year. Yikes.
1 star out of 5
The Raven (2012)
One of these days I will get around to reading the entire collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe. I even downloaded an app with all them in one place. But for now, I’ll just have to keep watching movies like The Raven, which takes its name from one of Poe’s most popular poems, even though the story has little to do with it.
The Raven is a fictionalized account of the last days of Poe, who died at the age of just 40 (in 1849). If the film’s depiction of him is to be believed, then he is a brilliant but egotistical writer with no money and a love for alcohol — and he looks exactly like John Cusack.
Anyway, a serial killer is on the loose and he or she appears to be a massive fan of Poe because the murders are being carried out just the way Poe wrote in his short stories. But the killer isn’t just a fan, he/she also wants to taunt Poe and play a game of cat and mouse with him. To entice Poe to cooperate, the killer kidnaps his one true love, played by Alice Eve, and Poe is forced to join forces with an inspector played by Luke Evans to capture the killer before time runs out.
OK, so The Raven has a fairly interesting premise, even if it does feel vaguely familiar. The direction of Aussie James McTeigue (who did Ninja Assassin and V for Vendetta) infuses the film with that dark, dreary visual flair, and thanks to Poe’s macabre works, there are some gruesome sequences that were surprisingly violent and graphic. And it does keep you guessing as to who the killer is.
However, the film’s tricks start to get weary after a while and started making me wonder whether it was even necessary to make the film about Poe, as opposed to any other fiction writer. Apart from an initial murder or two, were there even any other references to Poe’s works? And in any case, there was barely a climax and ending was dreadful, leaving an aftertaste of dissatisfaction by the time the credits started to roll.
2.75 stars out of 5
The Apparition (2012)
There are a few films like The Apparition every year: a generic horror movie with a generic name that would get zero attention if it didn’t star an up-and-coming newcomer (or two). And as almost always, the film is panned, and rightfully so.
This time, the “newcomer” is Twilight’s Ashley Greene, and she is joined by Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl, Captain America) and Draco Malfoy (aka Tom Felton). To be honest, I had to look up Wikipedia for a refresher on the plot, and apparently it’s about a bunch of college students who try to recreate a 1973 experiment where people stared at a drawing of a deceased man to try and summon his spirit. After the experiment a malevolent spirit starts following one of the students (Stan) around. The ghost does scary things to mess with him and his girlfriend (Greene) for a while before it eventually gets really nasty — and deadly!
You know The Apparition is bad. I got bored just from writing that synopsis. There is not an ounce of originality in the entire film, which borrows upon the worst of worst cliches in a futile attempt to elicit some cheap scares — but fails miserably. It’s not even in the “so bad it’s laughable” category.
Sure, you get to see Ashley Greene with long hair and in tight, skimpy outfits, but even that is not enough reason to subject yourself to this kind of torture for 82 very very long minutes.
The Possession, a supposedly “true story”, has a less than creative title, a cliched plot and employs some very old horror movie tricks. But for all its faults, The Possession IS freaking scary. I know this year hasn’t been a great year for horror films so far, but off the top of my head, I believe it is the scariest horror film I have seen this year, rather easily edging The Woman in Black.
It would be remiss of me to not mention upfront that The Possession is not even close to being “based on a true story.” The film is based on the tale of the “Dibbuk Box”, which is allegedly some kind of haunted Jewish wine box that allegedly brings bad luck to the owner. It became famous after one such box was sold on eBay and, as expected, a bunch of morons thought it would be great to buy it. You can read up on it here, a website dedicated to the story that looks so good it makes me suspicious about everything. In short, none of the stuff that happens in the “real” story happens in the movie.
Anyway, The Possession is about a recently divorced couple played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the American Javier Bardem) and Kyra Sedgwick and their two young daughters, one of whom comes across the dibbuk box at a garage sale. Naturally, strange and frightening stuff starts happening, and the parents have to work together to find a way to save their little girl.
Yes, it is yet another movie is about demonic possession of a young girl, but The Possession does have a lot going for it. For starters, unlike the majority of such films, it is genuinely creepy and has some really terrifying scenes, usually amped up by a blaring score that reminded me a little of Psycho. A lot of the scares are typical, classic tricks you might have experienced before, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. The Jewish slant adds a dash of freshness to the concept but also unintentional laughs during the final climax, which has elements of brilliance but didn’t break any new ground in the end.
Some of the “scary” scenes do fall a little flat, especially if you have seen the trailer. There are also some sequences that are too over-the-top for my liking, contradicting what Danish director Ole Bornedal (who did Nightwatch with Ewan McGregor and Josh Brolin, a surprisingly underrated horror flick) said about aiming for the subtlety of The Exorcist, the greatest horror movie of all time.
The Possession does start off with subtlety in mind, but unfortunately by the end it inevitably unravels and goes crazy — unnecessarily so, in my opinion. If you manage to get into the flow of the movie then you might be able to forgive some of the more outrageous scenes that were there merely for the sake of cheap thrills, but if you were sceptical from the outset you might find yourself laughing at how silly and nonsensical it is.
The performances of Morgan and Sedgwyck were strong, as were those of the two girls that played their kids, Natasha Calis and Madison Davenport. You really do get a sense of a familial bond between the four of them. One of the biggest and scariest shocks in the movie was discovering that Sedgwyck’s boyfriend in the movie is played by an initially unrecognizable Grant Show! Yes, I’m talking about Jake from Melrose Place!
The Possession is not what one would expect to be a good movie, and strictly speaking, it isn’t. But if it is just scares you are after, you may not find a more effective film this year.
I am a huge fan of horror films, and few intrigue me more than those with ‘possession’ and ‘exorcism’ angles. So of course I was eager to see The Rite, which was apparently aiming to be this generation’s The Exorcist. It stars Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Colin O’Donoghue (great screen presence), and tells the story of the young son of a mortuary owner (O’Donoghue) who almost drops out of seminary school and is instead whisked to Rome to participate in ‘exorcism’ class, and ends up learning from an unorthodox expert (Hopkins).
I didn’t have to see the film to know that critics were probably going to savage it — few horror films these days, especially those dealing with the supernatural, are likely to pass through unscathed. However, I thought the previews looked pretty promising, so I was kind of hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
I’ll get straight to the point. The Rite started off extremely well, almost too well for its own good. It was atmospheric, intriguing, chilling and rather eye-opening. It also asked some interesting questions about religion, faith and psychiatric illness, without coming off feeling contrived. There were some fantastically effective scenes and sequences that made me recoil in horror. It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by true events, though I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.
However, at some point, around halfway through the film, The Rite takes a massive wrong turn. I can almost pinpoint the exact scene where things start going downhill. The point of view begins to switch awkwardly all over the place, and all subtlely flies out the window. Instead of keeping you guessing, everything is spelled out and shoved down your throat, and genuine chills are replaced by cheap scares and special effects. What began as potentially a new classic spiralled into just another uninspiring supernatural horror flick.
I guess it was only a matter of time before they did a mockumentary on exorcisms, but surprisingly, The Last Exorcism, directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth, is actually very good.
It is an edited “found footage” movie in the vein of The Blair Witch Project that tells the story of Louisiana preacher Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who comes from a long line of “exorcists”. Naturally, Marcus is not a true believer, and to prove his point, he takes part in this documentary (which explains the film crew) — and of course, the one case he picks up at random turns out to be a genuine case of demonic possession — or is it?
For the most part, The Last Exorcism comes across as pretty authentic for a film of this kind. The screenplay is rock solid with great dialogue and compelling characters, especially the smug Reverend. It does an excellent job of raising questions about the truthfulness of the possession (and possession and exorcism in general) and cleverly creates several alternative possibilities and suspects to keep audiences intrigued.
The scares were fairly good — not as terrifying as the original Exorcist (what film is?) but there is decent tension and the aversion to cheap scares only adds to the realism. The best thing about the film is that the non-scary bits are also fun to watch and not just time-fillers for the next fright (unlike say Paranormal Activity).
However, I did say “for the most part” because The Last Exorcism could not entirely escape the tendency for horror films to fall apart at the end. The film’s authenticity was thrown out the window as it headed towards the climax, with the single hand-held camera occasionally discarded for quick cuts and close ups from different angles, and additional sound effects added in for…effect. If you’re really into the movie you probably won’t notice, but for the more astute viewer it’s a bit of a distractiion.
The final scenes were also an unexplained mess that felt rushed and incomplete — some might say it adds to the authenticity of “found footage” and promotes discussion, but to me it was unsatisfying and needed to be fleshed out more.
Having said that, The Last Exorcism is still one of the best-made horror films of the year.