Sunday, January 9, 2011

Religious Double Feature: Devil and The Last Exorcism

I'm doing my happy dance, y'all. I've hit my first blog-related milestone, which is to get 100 followers. Can I get a "woo-woo"???

Devil-ish plot: Five strangers enter an elevator in an office building together, and soon find themselves stuck twenty floors up. As the police and security officers try to free the stranded passengers, deadly happenings start pitting the strangers against each other. Each time the lights go out, another person dies, and one security man believes that one of the them is the Devil himself.

If a movie can be compared to a novel, then Devil would be more like a short story. It presents all the elements of character, motivation and plot but doesn't give itself enough time to satisfyingly carry these things out. This is no surprise, though, seeing as how the movie is less than 90 minutes long.

But while the ending of the movie still leaves you feeling somewhat incomplete, I have to say that the movie itself isn't really that bad. You get skeptical when you hear about a movie taking place in a freaking elevator (or maybe a little excited to find out how the director is going to pull it off) and the melding of those scenes with the scenes on the outside were done well. We never feel like we're stuck in either place for too long. The dialogue and actions of the characters are believable, if at times a little over dramatic.

At times, Devil felt a bit like Clue or a Sherlock Holmes story. Four suspects. Which one killed the guy in the dark? And of course that's the big question you're asking yourself before you even see the movie is Which one is the devil?, but when the answer is finally revealed, it is no big shock or twist. You're just kind of thinking, "Oh, okay. That's cool, I guess." See what I mean? Incomplete. Anticlimactic. The big message of the film dealing with the last two characters seemingly fades into the distance, or feels like it was tacked on last minute. M. Night seems to believe strongly in fate and faith, as both of these issues were a major theme in Signs and The Lady in the Water.

Of course this is a horror site and we must discuss the gore quotient. The movie is low on blood and guts but I was happy with the variety of killing methods used, given the limited supplies in the elevator. There's throat-slashing, hanging, and a gruesome broken neck with head twisted almost completely around. Could have been better, but not too bad.

Anyway, pretty okay movie that should have given itself a little bit more time to fully explore its issues.

The power of Christ compels me to tell you the plot: Reverend Cotton Marcus is setting out to debunk his long career with exorcisms by taking a documentary crew to what will hopefully be his "last exorcism." They go to the Sweetzer farm in rural Louisiana where a father believes his teenage daughter, Nell, is possessed, and become involved in something they never expected.

Of these two movies that I watched today, I'm inclined to say that The Last Exorcism was a bit better. Even the rather mundane first 30 minutes that set up Cotton's story; his somewhat lapse in faith; and the fact that he is a big fat phony when it comes to doing actual exorcisms is still interesting to watch because it is well shot and acted. Patrick Fabian is excellent as the charismatic yet human good ole boy reverend and carries the film well. Nell is also fabulously played by the young Ashley Bell, although if I'm going to compare, I'd have to say that she was far outshone by Jennifer Carpenter in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Still, her performance is spot on for the material.

On the acting note, where the hell have I seen this Fabian dude before? His IMDb has a ton of TV shit that he's done but I can't point out where I remember him from. Let me look again... OH YEAH! Professor Jeremiah Lasky on the short-lived Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Memories! Sorry. Back to the show.

Like I said, the movie manages to keep the viewer's interest throughout but it really heats up after the fake exorcism when we realize that there really is something wrong with Nell. Then it heats up yet again for the finale, which comes about as quite unexpected and surprising. The movie moves fast and the scene progression is logical with something new to try to figure out at each turn in the story.

I honestly don't know how to feel about the documentary style used. I mean it was done convincingly and it does work for the movie, I'm just not sure about why they chose to do it that way. It could just as easily have worked if shot like a regular movie. However, this style certainly gives a specific feel to the story, with the immediacy and unexpectedness of the actions. Sometimes during these moments, though, you're yelling at the camera guy "I can't see what's going on! Move to the left!" or some other such obscenities. But the camera is not terribly shaky and is framed up well most of the time so that the documentary style never really becomes that much of a nuisance and you get used to it fairly quickly.

Going a little off-topic again, it's amazing how the camera guy can go from natural light to artificial light without white balancing the camera and still have the colors come out true to life. It looks like he only changes filters, which would still fuck up your colors anyway. Just sayin'.

I'm actually surprised at how much I liked this movie. Hearing about another exorcism movie with a young girl as the possession victim left me with that "oi, not again" feeling, but The Last Exorcism manages to do things a little different and still keep the scare-and-creep factor relatively high. A few well placed twists leave you feeling duped for a minute, only to have it be twisted around the other way and give your senses a bit of a shock. Me would recommend to you. See it.


  1. Great write ups, M Night's name pretty is going to keep me from what Devil, I simply despise that man...

    I saw The Last Exorcism again this weekend and its an excellent bit of filmmaking, what'd you think about the ending?

  2. Devil starts next week here in Austria - excited!!

    seen Exorcism last year, thought it was quite interesting but IMO a bit too tedious

  3. @Daniel - I liked the ending, unexpected and surprising. Although, I was under the impression that Cotton randomly picked out a demon to say that Nell was possessed with, since he didn't believe it in the first place. A little unbelievable that Abalam or whatever was the actual demon that they were worshipping.

    @Maynard - I wouldn't get too excited - the movie makes a lot of promises but ends up falling rather flat.

  4. I kind of liked 'Devil' in spite of myself. Still need to catch 'The Last Exorcism' though. Great write-ups.