Sequel

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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The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)

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The Haunting in Connecticut 2 (THIC2) is based on the real life story of the Wyrick family and their horrific experience with spirits of previous inhabitants of their new farmhouse. The film centres around the daughter, Heidi, played by Emily Alyn Lind (Enter the Void) who begins seeing Mr Gordy (Grant James, Tombstone), a friendly, if silent, older well-dressed man. Heidi’s parents, Lisa and Andy played by Abigail Spencer (Cowboys & Aliens) and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) respectively, initially think the Mr. Gordy is an imaginary friend. However, with the help of Lisa’s free-spirited sister, Joyce (Katee Sackhoff, Halloween: Resurrection), it soon becomes clear that he is he spirit of the previous owner in the 1970s. Soon though, Heidi is visited by less benevolent spirits and things come to a head when she discovers a secret cellar. Heidi’s psychic ability was inherited from her mother’s side and through the film we see Lisa’s attempt to cope with her spiritual visions through the use of prescription drugs and Joyce’s more opposing philosophical approach to them.

Through a visit from the local pastor and information from Mr. Gordy, we learn that the house and land that the Wyrick’s purchased used to be used as the base of the underground railway used for escaping slaves. The pastor sings the praises of Mr. Gordy’s stationmaster ancestor it is through Heidi and Mr. Gordy we learn a more sinister tale of his taxidermy hobby and how the neighbouring landowners killed him, stuffing him with sawdust (a la stuffing a taxidermy) and hung him from a tree on the land.

THIC2 produces some good jumps but never really scares, the set pieces should be impressive (including the woman hanging from threads on the movie poster) but are lack lustre and seem unconnected to the story. The story seems confused, trying to cram in as many ‘classic’ scary moments including an exorcism (although in the film it is a ‘blessing’, it has all the marks of an exorcism) and the discovery of several skeletons. After reading about the real-life Wyrick family, it also seems to deviate greatly from the reported events so the film doesn’t even have realism going for it.

The worst thing about THIC2 is the lack of connection and cohesion with the first film, indeed the film is not even set in Connecticut! THIC2 claims to be a ‘brother film’ of the original but in my opinion it is so far removed, completely different characters, actors and director that it is just a weak unoriginal film cashing in on the moderate success of The Haunting in Connecticut. I wouldn’t really recommend THIC2 to anyone, it does not deliver the promised scares but it not bad enough to be good.

Rating: 2/5

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Fun (or not so fun) Fact: A second sequel (The Haunting in Connecticut 3 maybe?) has been announced and set in New York (also not Connecticut).

Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

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Both films follow the unfortunate Lambert family who have inherited the ability to project themselves into an astral plane. On this plane, however, we find that they are not alone and instead it is inhabited by spirits of the dead and other more deadly beings all of whom are looking for a way back into this material world. In the first film it is the son, Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3) who is the centre of the problem becoming the object of desire of a Darth Maul-esque demon and falls into a coma that cannot be explained medically. Is parents, Renai and Josh played by Rose Bryne (28 Weeks Later, X-Men: First Class) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, Hard Candy) respectively learn from Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, Black Swan, Hannah and her Sisters) that this isn’t the first time this has happened. Indeed, it happened to Josh as a child which is why there are no photos of him in his youth around.

In both films there are ‘professional’ mediums, Elise (Lin Shaye, There’s something about Mary), Specs (Leigh Whannell, Saw) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, Summer Coda), the latter two providing some comic relief. In the second film after Elise’s death, Specs and Tucker are joined by Carl (Steve Coulter, The Conjuring), Elise’s previous assistant who contacts her through the use of sever dice.

The second film focuses around the father, Josh who after rediscovering his ability brought something back at the end of the first film. It opens in the 1980s with Elise removing Josh’s ability before moving into the present day and Renai being questioned about Elise’s death which occurred at the end of the first film. These flashbacks are a common feature throughout the film in which we learn about the spirit that has been following Josh since he was a boy and is now inhabited him.

The idea of astral projection adds a different facet to the usual possession storyline and I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, there was the right amount of jumps and mystery with the soundtrack serving to enhance the mood without over-powering it as can easily happen in such a film. The second film however, whilst still providing its fair share of jumps and scares, is far more confused trying to weave together a new story about the spirit possessing Josh whilst fleshing out the background hinted at in the first film. This leads to a confused and lack lustre film. In the second film the ghosts make-up seem more naïve, lots of white painted faces and even resorting to people in sheets, which considering the much increased budget from the first one, $5 million compared to $1.5 million for the first, you would have thought would be more impressive. The storyline itself in the second one reverts to clichés, killers with mother issues, which really lets the unusual idea of astral projection from the first film down.

As with many similar films, for example The Conjuring also by director James Wan or the Saw franchise (which Wan directed part III and the upcoming part VII and writer Leigh Whannell wrote parts I, II, III and VIII) Insidious seems destined to be done into the ground with each film becoming increasingly confused and unoriginal, indeed Insidious: Chapter 3 is already in production, I just hope it doesn’t go the same way as the Paranormal Activity or aforementioned Saw franchise and become a parody of itself.

Rating: Insidious 4/5 blood4aInsidious: Chapter 2 2/5blood2a