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Posts tagged ‘last’

Liar, Liar

The Last Exorcism (2010, d. Daniel Stamm)

Most faux documentaries are phonies.  I don’t mean to state the obvious.  I mean to say that a sub-genre of horror films (and an innovation in internet marketing) was started in 1999 with the Blair Witch Project.  Blair was the first, to my knowledge, to incorporate elements of cinema vérité, reality television, and teen-oriented horror into a truly different kind of scary movie.  It spawned many off-spring most of which are either Blair knock offs – The Last Horror Movie, June 9 – or routine horror narratives wearing a hand-held camera for post-modern disguise – Cloverfield, Rec, The Fourth Kind. What was neat about Blair, and what I like about The Last Exorcism is that the phony documentary conceit isn’t just a different way of telling a story, it’s that the making of a supposed documentary and the fictional filmmakers themselves are the story.  The Last Exorcism doesn’t exhibit the, now overdone, “true story” or “found footage” artifice.  There’re all fake.  We know that.  In this one the hand-held camera, in real time, is our voyeuristic guide into a very weird mystery.  We also identify with the documentary filmmaker characters themselves who get over their heads in dilemmas of ethics and personal responsibility, and in attempting to determine what is real.

Cotton is an evangelical preacher who has had a crisis of religious doubt. He is now an admitted huckster in his longtime use of magic tricks, con-artistry and performance, particularly in the stagecraft of demonic exorcism.  Cotton is getting out of the phony exorcism business and brings in a video crew to document his last exorcism; his last production.  Cotton and crew stumble into helping a rural Louisiana family, whose teenage daughter has been slaughtering livestock while purportedly in the trance of a demonic possession.  Cotton attempts to sell an effective exorcism but circumstances reveal the girl and her family have very complicated psychological and inter-personal problems.  The documentary from this point explores a numbers of mysteries:  Is the girl’s so-called possession in actuality the product of abuse or mental illness?  Are members of her family and people from the local town representing themselves truthfully?  Most important, is she really possessed by a demon or is the video crew capturing her performance; her lie?  The layers of mystery within the confines of the story are as thick as a Bayou swamp.  And don’t forget the film’s mediated interaction with us, the audience.  It’s only pretending to be a documentary.  This is a lie horror fans have apparently now come to accept without other truthy marketing gimmicks, as would the audience of a musical or professional wrestling.

An interesting thing about The Last Exorcism in its unrehearsed documentary abstraction,  it’s also an excellent piece of screen writing.  The plot and the dialogue have a very sophisticated way of keeping you wondering what in Hell is going on, trust me.  That being said, I don’t want to say too much.  I’m docking the movie half a point on my scale for its ending.  I think the story leads its characters into a very difficult moral trap.  That’s the challenge of good drama and I have to say that the last two minutes feels tacked on and, well, artificial.  I’ll be positive and call it the shocking last twist.  I’m putting The Last Exorcism on my list as qualifying for the top 10 movies of the year.  Can you believe that?

Fish, Fish, I Got My Subconscious Wish

Piranha 3D (2010, d. Alexandre Aja)

And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. -Genesis 19:28


Spring break at Lake Victoria is a retreat for young people who worship water, sun, and public self-indulgence. But nature has pronounced judgment on this debauchery; a plague of thousands of man eating fish; piranha with teeth like jackals.  Survival or death is gauged largely by one’s moral rectitude.  Jake is a good, local kid who serves as a surrogate parent for his little brother and sister while his mother, the town sheriff, is out busting bad-boys.  Jake isn’t as muscular or cocky as the big knuckleheads who party all day at the beach.  When Jake naively gets hired away from babysitting to chaperone a pornographic film crew on a boat cruise, he doesn’t know that the piranha are coming for he and the girl he likes, and for his family too.  Confronted with temptations of money, drugs, and underwater lesbians, Jake is spared the grizzly, ichthyologic death of his peers by choosing family over fantasy.

This is a seeming twist on a popular theory in horror film criticism, that of the “last surviving girl” as proposed by Carol

"Men Women and Chainsaws"

Clover in her book “Men Women and Chainsaws.”  Through most of Piranha, Jake is the unguided but innocent victim of monsters.  The monsters aren’t just the prehistoric, blood-thirsty fish.  Jake is victim of the macho beach bullies, the sleazy porn producer, his masculinized and absent mother (way out of her acceptable feminine role), and his adolescent sexual impulses.  But by denying these impulses, he survives to become the hero who reconstructs his family and kills all the evil fish.

The use of a male character as victim-hero is only a seeming innovation on the form. The preponderance of female nudity, male prowess, excessive gore, and history of the genre would still indicate a typical young male target audience.  But Jake isn’t like other boys at first.  He is initially effeminate, virginal, a baby-sitter.  In terms of male identification, Jake becomes a hero over this emasculation.  As the collective fantasy of a fully bacchanalian paradise at the beach is literally eaten to pieces in a horrific lake of blood, the audience has Jake, to teach male virtue, to overcome his Freudian father beating (the fish), and survive for an inevitable sequel.  Piranha plays like a Biblical size catastrophe.  The angels save Lot from the doom of the sinful citizens of Sodom.

Personally I don’t care for these kinds of movies so I have a slight objectivity problem.   To me they are just pointless, sadistic voyeurism from a safe vantage.  Despite all the nudity and sex the whole genre is repressed, sexually retarded, and culturally conservative in its stereotypes, conscious and unconscious.  Such films are little more than regurgitated mythology that allow viewers to experience forbidden desires and then displace their punishment onto morally simplistic characters.  Despite the apparent twist in gender roles, the real exercise of Piranha is to advise young males on their castration anxiety.  If you dip your penis in the bloody lake it will become bait.   It will get bitten off.  This is another Freudian complex demonstrated at one point  by a floating, three-dimensional, dismembered penis which gets eaten by the piranha.

In terms of pure filmmaking – the effects, the 3D, a pretty good cast – Piranha is the best made of this genre I can think of.  It’s definitely the grossest movie I’ve ever seen.  For blood and gore it’s the best of the worst.