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The Last Exorcism: Smart Horror Let Down by Predictability
If you’ve watched any horror films in the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen this one ten times over an exorcism presented in the form of a faux-documentary. Where this film differs from every single other low budget, exorcism film is that the reverend who performs the rite has become a religious sceptic and is making this documentary as a way of exposing just how much of a sham exorcisms are.
Cotton (Fabian), the preacher, is asked to help cure Nell (Bell), a teenage girl who has taken to slaughtering farm animals while retaining no memory of the acts. Cotton agrees to do it in exchange for the permission to film the exorcism. His method though, is decidedly unorthodox. He uses a bunch of gadgets to fake an exorcism in an attempt to help Nell get over what he’s convinced is a psychological condition in which she believes herself to be possessed. When this approach fails, it becomes apparent that they’re dealing with something far more sinister than a teenager’s overactive imagination.
From the moment Cotton announces his religious doubts and his intention behind making the documentary, the entire film just unfolds in your mind, and for the most part it’s identical to what actually ends up playing on screen. Yes, there are a number of twists but they’re generally minor details and take place towards the end. Despite its predictability, the film spends most of its running time playing an is-she-or-isn’t-she game where Cotton keeps trying to rationalise the weird things happening to Nell. It isn’t boring but it does feel rather futile. We all know that she’s actually possessed so why is Cotton taking so long to just accept that fact?
Fabian is a trooper though and gives a pretty lively performance as a man dealing with the aftermath of a crisis of faith only to start questioning his agnosticism. He anchors the movie and is the reason that it’s as watchable as it is. Bell nails both sides of her character - the sheltered, naive girl and the psychotic monster - and Landry is chilling as her protective, abrasive brother.
Apart from the mostly unsurprising plot, the film does manage to establish a rather tense mood and the fake exorcism scene is pretty inspired. However, the found-footage / faux-documentary gimmick that has all but taken over horror really needs to be retired, especially when it’s done pretty sloppily – as is the case here.
The Last Exorcism buries a smart idea under all the trappings of every other similar film that has come out recently. Cotton is a novel character and it would have been more interesting to increase the focus on his dilemma and to test his faith in a less conventional, more explicit manner. As it is, The Last Exorcism is a solid horror film that has tried to inject some smarts into the genre.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.