Found Footage

The Last Exorcism (2010) and The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)

the last exorcism

I thought I hadn’t done a double review for a while so here we go.

The Last Exorcism follows Reverend Cotton Marcus played by Patrick Fabian (Bad Ass),a Southern pastor who has become disillusioned with the exorcisms he has made his living performing. With the help of a film crew he does one last case (the exorcism of the title) to reveal the tricks of the trade that he and other exorcists employ. The last case is that of Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell, The Day), a quiet, highly religious 14 year old who lives out in the countryside with her father and brother. Her father has kept her isolated at home since the death of his wife. Marcus bamboozles the family with hidden speakers and sleight of hand into thinking Nell is possessed by the demon Abalam who he then succeeds in exorcising from Nell. It would be a very short film if the revelation went as planned but unfortunately for all concerned that is not the case with things going from bad to worse with Nell turning up unexpectedly at the motel room.

I enjoyed The Last Exorcism up until the final twenty minutes or so where it quite frankly gets ridiculous. The idea of an exorcist not believing in demons is unusual, normally they are the ones trying to convince people that demons exist. It is also good that for most of the film it is unclear as to whether Nell is possessed or there is some more earthly reason for her actions. The Last Exorcism is filmed on hand cameras which leads to several shakey and blurry scenes which generally don’t add much to the film, however I can see how this technique fits in with the documentary storyline. There is a subtle use of soundtrack throughout which adds to the tension throughout. Even though I had seen the film before, I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of it (until the ridiculous end that is) which is a good sign.

The Last Exorcism Part II catches up with Nell Sweetzer. The film opens with her being found in the kitchen of a random couple looking possessed. Unfortunately for the film this opening scene is the scariest of the whole film. Fast forwards several months and Nell is released from hospital into a midway house and starts to get her life on track, finding a job and experiencing her tentative first love. Soon however, signs begin to appear that Abalam has returned for Nell. This time there is no hint of the subtlety that was in the first film with demonic cults, voodoo priests and the apocalypse thrown seemingly at random into the confused plot of the film. One plus point in favour of the second film is that they managed to get the same actress to play Nell, something which doesn’t always happen with sequels (Cruel Intentions springs to mind).

Part II is a completely different ball game to the original film in both feel, execution and calibre. At least it doesn’t fall into the same trap of retelling the same story as the original in the same way (unlike Paranormal Activity series) and it is still connected to the original (unlike The Haunting In Connecticut). In these two respects I would consider Part II to be a successful sequel. It is just a shame that the plot is so weak.

I would recommend people to watch The Last Exorcism but not to bother with the second one.

Part I: 4/5

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Part II: 2/5

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Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

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I have been meaning to watch Grave Encounters 2 for a while after enjoying the first film. The second film leads on directly from the first, so in order to understand it you really need to have watched the first film. Grave Encounters (2011) follows a film crew for a TV programme headed by Lance Preston who lock themselves inside a haunted asylum. Things go from bad to worse and the whole crew disappear.

Grave Encounters 2 follows Alex, played by Richard Harmon (Continuum) one of the 20million fans who have viewed the first film on YouTube and a film student. After starting a project based on Grave Encounters, queue lots of poor “student” acting, Alex becomes obsessed with proving that the first film is true. The first part of the film is setting the scene and I feel goes on too long with several unnecessary scenes including Alex meeting Lance’s mother which adds nothing to the story.

Finally the film crew get to the asylum after a tip-off from the anonymous blogger DeathAwaits666 who agrees to meet them there and prove that Grave Encounters is true. Upon breaking into the asylum, Alex and his friends are stood up by the blogger but decide to try to contact the spirits using a handy Ouija board (why would anyone ever thing this would be a good idea?) and surprise, surprise,  DeathAwaits666 is actually a demonic entity in the asylum. Now things start to heat up and all hell breaks loose with several evil spirits including a creepy little girl and a long limbed humanoid figure. The actual asylum is up to its old business in the first film with moving walls separating and trapping the group.

Unexpectedly the group run into Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) who has been trapped in the asylum for nine years which has understandably sent him insane. This is where the film gets weird and becomes a film in its own right rather than an imitation of the first film. In his incarceration Lance has discovered a giant red free-standing door, not the most subtle of things which he believes to be the only way out. To get around the fact that we are running out of characters to hold the camera, the asylum now takes it on itself with floating camcorders.

Whilst it is nice to see some progression from the first film, The Vicious Brothers, aka Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, I think it goes off the wall a bit and definitely primes the way for another sequel which is one of my least favourite trends in modern horror films. Grave Encounters 2 is an average film and better than many sequels but isn’t as good as the original.

Rating: 4/5

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V/H/S (2012)

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V/H/S is a collection of six unconnected short films ranging from aliens to ghosts to psychotic killers, each written and directed by a different team and featuring many different horror subgenres. The film follows a group of petty criminals, we know this as the first scene is a mixture of them breaking and entering, creating hidden sex tapes and so on. The group are on the hunt for an unusual video tape and come across a corpse surrounded by video tapes which, in order to find the correct tape they watch. All the films are approximately fifteen to twenty five minutes long and, as with the main story, all are filmed on handheld cameras however all have a very different take on hand held cameras, including video chat and glasses with a small camera hidden in them.

The first follows a group of jocks who use a small camera hidden in a pair of glasses to record them picking up women on a night out. However one of the women they take back to their motel room turns out to be more than she looks and the night doesn’t end well for the jocks. The next is directed by Ti West (The Innkeepers) and follows a married couple visiting the West (cowboys and all) and receive a scarily accurate prediction from a toy fortune teller. All the films are interspersed with the main narrative following the thieves in the dead man’s house where they find that they are not alone in the house. The third vignette makes use of tracking errors to cover a potentially supernatural killer in the woods, à la The Blair Witch Project. The fourth short is my personal favourite and directed by Joe Swanberg, who incidentally plays the lead in the previous short, and follows Emily talking to her boyfriend about a suspicious lump in her arm and strange things that are happening in her apartment. The final short features a real life haunted house at Halloween in 1998 and a retelling of the classic hitchhiker urban legend.

V/H/S has all the hallmarks of a great horror film and by keeping each storyline short means that the action is packed in, it takes a talented team to tell a story in such a short space of time, but each film, without exception, manages it. Whilst the use of a found footage is nothing new, V/H/S showcases the versatility of this method of film making and has something to appeal to everyone. The main criticism I have of V/H/S is the use of video tapes, which in this day and age are redundant having been replaced firstly by DVDs and now by Blu-rays and streaming, however the use of VHS tapes has the nostalgia and indie feel to it that the more advanced technologies have. I would recommend V/H/S as one to watch when you don’t know what type of horror film you are in the mood for or you are lacking the attention span for a longer film.

Rating: 4/5

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