The Last Exorcism Parts I & II (2010/2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #138

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Suggested Audio Candy:

INXS Devil Inside

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Regan MacNeil has a lot to answer for if you ask me. Ever since the twelve-year-old became unwitting host for the Prince of Darkness, countless adolescents have become cursed by him downstairs and used as vessels for his wrong-doing. We all know how it works by now. It starts with mild fever, rapidly escalating into full-blown convulsions, a dash of involuntary levitation, swivel-head syndrome and forceful bursts of projectile vomiting. Then, once Beelzebub has taken hold sufficiently, it is customary to stab one’s genitalia with whatever religious artefact comes to hand first and invite the good lord to engage in some good old-fashioned lovemaking. William Friedkin ticked every last box when introducing poor Regan to the dark side for The Exorcist and inevitably the flood gates opened.

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Actually that’s not strictly true. Although a number of filmmakers leapt on his coat tails soon afterwards, it all died down in next to no time. By the time John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg’s misguided sequel arrived in 1977 and was torn asunder by critics, the final nail was already in the coffin and it remained all quiet on the Southern front until the turn of the new millennium.

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In recent years, exorcism flicks have enjoyed something of a resurgence with the likes of Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Ole Bornedal’s The Possession and William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside all enjoying profitable theatrical runs and numerous others following suit. Another of the more high-profile efforts came courtesy of co-producer Eli Roth and The Last Exorcism turned a huge profit at the box office.

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Needless to say, with a tidy $67.7m return in the bag, a sequel was inevitable and three years later Ed Gass-Donnelly came up with the goods. While The Last Exorcism Part II fared decidedly less well, it still managed to triple its initial outlay. However, it is never a positive sign when a film isn’t screened to critics in advance of its release and the damning indictment it received ensured that it was exorcised from multiplexes before you could say “fuck me Jesus”. Whether or not it ever reaches trilogy status remains to be seen although the jury’s out at this point. I have to come clean, The Exorcist aside, this particular sub-genre leaves me somewhat cold and I won’t be shedding any tears if it never comes to fruition. That said, I have gifted both films my valuable time and decided to tackle them by way of double-header. So, without further ado, it’s time to top up on holy water and dodge some vomit.

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 27, 2010
Sub-Genre: Supernatural/Found Footage
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,800,000
Box Office: $67,700,000
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: Daniel Stamm
Producers: Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
Screenplay: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero
Cinematography: Zoltan Honti
Score: Nathan Barr
Editing: Shilpa Sahi
Studios: Strike Entertainment, StudioCanal, Arcade Pictures
Distributor: Lionsgate
Stars: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, Shanna Forrestall, Becky Fly, Denise Lee, Logan Craig Reid, Adam Grimes

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Nathan Barr The Last Exorcism

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The original received an almost unanimously positive reaction during its unveiling and comparisons were drawn with the likes of The Blair Witch Project due to its documentary-style approach, which certainly didn’t harm its chances any. It tells the tale of disenchanted evangelical minister cum Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) who has long-since misplaced his faith and become something of a hokey con-merchant instead. When he receives correspondence from Louisiana farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) informing him of the slaughter of his livestock and possession of his teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell), and asking for his help, Cotton decides to perform one last “fake” exorcism and heads off with documentary filmmaker Iris (Iris Bahr) and her cameraman Daniel (Adam Grimes) to chronicle events.

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After meeting the afflicted girl and considering the facts, Cotton comes to the conclusion that she is possessed by a malevolent incubus by the name of Abalam and hoodwinks the Sweetzer family into believing he can cleanse the child. However, after the ritual has been performed and the team leave, things begin to take a turn for the worse and whatever spirit is responsible for ransacking Nell’s head space, is now very much aware of her bogus savior. Things continue to escalate and, while hospital tests reveal nothing untoward, Nell is undoubtedly under some kind of influence. This places him in desperate search of his lost faith and being required to drive out said demon for real. As father Karras will no doubt attest, this is easier said than done, as possession is nine-tenths of the law. Time to start praying for divine intervention.

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The cast do reasonably well across the board and, while Fabian tends to grate as the fraudulent minister, I’m sure that this is the intention. At the offset, his intentions are anything but honorable, and he is convinced that it is a crock of shit. By providing a service in some way and playing the game how the Sweetzers wish it to be played, he considers that everyone wins and is more than happy to take their money and place them swiftly out of both sight and mind. That said, once he realizes that this isn’t quite the easy gig it first appears, he undergoes something of a metamorphosis and we begin to warm to his character a little.

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However, the real jewel in the crown here is Bell who possesses a pair of peepers like an extra from Watership Down and strikes the perfect balance between vulnerability and inner steel and wholly convinces us of her authenticity. She really goes to hell and back, contorting and babbling incoherently as the grip on her soul continues to tighten. Ultimately, she carries The Last Exorcism pretty much single-handedly as Nell is always our main point of interest and failure to convince would make the whole affair feel as counterfeit as her knight in shining priest robes.

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Stamm’s film burns particularly slowly and deliberately and this happens to be a particular bugbear of mine with regards found footage flicks in general. With the exception of Adam Robitel’s The Taking of Deborah Logan, they follow convention to the letter of the law and offer only occasional tidbits to ensure we remain invested and The Last Exorcism is no exception to this rule. However, should we stick with it through any narrative lulls, the decision becomes justified during its closing act and it is here that it begins to shift gear. It remains to be seen whether subsequent views will benefit the experience but, while never likely to encourage us to wear diapers to safeguard our compromised prostate glands, it delivers just enough chills and spills to warrant its reputation.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $5,000,000
Box Office: $15,152,879 (USA)
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Producers: Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, Ed Gass-Donnelly
Special Effects: Elvis Jones
Cinematography: Brendan Steacy
Score: Michael Wandmacher
Editing: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Studios: Strike Entertainment, StudioCanal, Arcade Pictures
Distributors: CBS Films
Stars: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum, Boyana Balta, Muse Watson, Erica Michelle, Sharice A. Williams

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Michael Wandmacher Seeing a Ghost

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Ed Gass-Donnelly’s sequel strays from the original template, ditching the found footage approach in favor of a more conventional feature film approach and, I have to say, I welcomed this intelligence from the offset. Granted, Stamm did a reasonably astute job of fraying our nerves first time around but more of the same would have been unnecessary and a further 93 minutes of patiently waiting for the obvious would have perhaps been a stretch too far. In theory, this change allows for a quicker pace and, to Gass-Donnelly’s credit, there is far more incident to break up the monotony. That said, it also loses much of its impact in the process.

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The Last Exorcism Part II continues to chart the exploits of the beleaguered Nell. Having been found in a catatonic state, she is moved to a home for trouble girls run in New Orleans by Frank (Muse Watson) and looks to re-piece her fragmented life by taking on a job as a hotel chambermaid under the supervision of Beverly (Diva Tyler) in an attempt to put the past behind her.

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While no longer suffering from the nightmares that had haunted her previously and making new friends in Gwen (Julia Garner), Daphne (Erica Michelle), and Monique (Sharice Angelle Williams), it isn’t long before the dreaded Abalam rears his ugly head once more and all manner of ominous visions play out.

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To be honest, the word exorcism is superfluous to proceedings here as, short of the odd levitation and a dash of mouth-foaming, Gass-Donnelly’s film shares more common ground with Carrie than The Exorcist, increasingly so as begins to unfurl towards its typically crowd-pleasing conclusion. Once again, Bell does a grand job as our troubled lead and carries most of the burden on her own shoulders alone and Garner also gives an excellent account of herself, while everyone around them scratch their heads and fail to spot the clear and present danger until it is staring them dead in the face. The screenplay from Gass-Donnelly and co-writer Damien Chazelle is serviceable but nothing more, while regular shock tactics and audio jolts replace any real build up of suspense.

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As a result, The Last Exorcism Part II becomes the ideal trailer movie and boasts precious little that we haven’t seen before and often better. Nevertheless, it is actually an easier first time view than its predecessor as energetic zeal goes some way towards winning us over. Granted, it misses more clear-cut opportunities than an amputee penalty-taker and too often squanders its potential by opting for the easy solution but in no way, shape or form is it an outright travesty. That said, it will likely live on in the memory for approximately the same length of time as a carp on a sun-lounger and mild entertainment isn’t quite enough to banish the feeling of unfulfillment. Love or loathe the original, it left a palpable tang on the palate, whereas Gass-Donnelly’s film is ultimately somewhat tasteless.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

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As for picking an outright winner between the two movies, it’s something of a toss-up in my opinion. The original is undoubtedly the better overall movie but, should a gun be pointed at my head, then I would actually opt to rewatch the sequel first. It’s ultimately down to personal preference and I’m just a little too weary of found footage to relish the return journey. As for any claims that we have indeed witnessed The Last Exorcism, something tells me those maroon Doc Martens may just show up one more time to complete the trinity and, should that be the case, then there’s just enough on offer here to justify that decision.

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Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Far less in the way of grue than gross-out imagery, there are short controlled bursts of violence but nothing to write home about. Of the two movies, the original has the edge when it comes to FX and, with dab hands Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero applying the latex, the make-up is predictably excellent. That said, when you consider that it is now over forty years since The Exorcist first turned our stomachs, there is little here to match up to Regan’s demonic gymnastics and a rotating head here and puke orgy there wouldn’t have gone amiss.

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Read The Exorcist Appraisal

Read The Exorcist III Appraisal

Read Carrie (1976) Appraisal

Read Carrie (2013) Appraisal

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