Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: EXETER (2015) [Paul's Take]

Exeter begins with an epic party at an abandoned asylum.  Which is to say that, to my adult litigation-sensitive eyes, it begins with a liability nightmare.  Kids dance drunkenly on cars.  A masked man sets things on fire with an aerosol flamethrower.  Bowling balls whiz through the crowd, crashing into walls and breaking beer bottles (who brings bowling balls to a house party?  Or do you keep a bowling ball in your trunk on the off chance that it turns into a let’s-wreck-shit party?).  And this all goes down in a decrepit building full of lots of stuff to puncture yourself on as well as a probably above-average amount of tetanus.
But Exeter doesn’t really get going until the next morning when the party has dwindled down to just our nice guy hero and a gang of irreverent and vulgar friends.  Then, in the cold light of morning, the merry gang begins to be terrorized by a demon that possesses their bodies one by one.  Violence, murder, and accidental death (that old life lesson--don’t run with sharp objects--can never be repeated enough) ensue as they do battle with the evil demon.  Not all of them survive.

Yet, in my book, they’re already winners.  Why?  The noticeable lack of anything like a hangover, intoxication (with one exception), or fatigue one would normally associate with staying up all night while indulging in the following list of substances: 

1.  Alcohol (duh),
2.  PCP (whoa.  That went from zero to sixty fast.)
3.  L (not sure what this is--assume it’s LSD, so double whoa.)
4.  E (I know we’re in the LOL-speak era now, but I’m somewhat perturbed by the way drug names are being reduced to single letters.)
5.  “Vikes” (Case in point.  Pretty soon this will just be “V” which might be confusing in certain circles.  Also, this sounds a bit like something Dracula might say if unpleasantly surprised.)
6.  “Oxy” (Again.  It’s like you’re really uncool if you say the whole word.  Cool kids only say parts of words.)
7.  Morphine (Seems pretty tame after all that)

That's a lot, right?  But these kids are up and at ‘em, bright eyed and bushy tailed, BUSHY TAILED, ready to take on evil demons after a night of debauchery that would be, well, fatal to anyone else.  The real winners in this film are teenage livers.  

In a serious film, this would be an issue.  But Exeter is not a serious film.   We know this for sure when the priest arrives outside the asylum for the exorcism, glances up at the window where it will all go down, adjusts his spectacles while the camera zooms in on his determined yet doubtful expression.  And then this happens.

This is Exeter’s brand of humor.  Irreverent isn’t really the right word.  It’s more vulgar and obscene, depending on sex, drugs, and rape jokes.  Wait, I got it!  It’s BRO.  Bro-horror.  Brorror.  Funny, that’s the sound my friend’s dog makes.  

But just because it’s bro doesn’t mean it’s not funny.  True, not many of the jokes are of the laugh out loud sort, but the constant banter is sort of entertaining and there’s a silliness to the action sequences that is reminiscent of Itchy and Scratchy.  One character, for example, gets stabbed by a spoon, the least likely of cutlery.  Another is attacked on a foosball table and later discovers a missing part of his anatomy in the ball return.  The exorcism scene is carried out with instructions found on an exorcism-for-dummies website.  Exeter feels like it is having fun throughout, even if some of the punchlines or monologues don’t always hit the mark.

I’m not sure how to feel about the film’s breakneck pace and ADD timing.  Everything feels really rushed.  Like when you refer to drugs by initials.  Who has time for Vicodin?  Vikes, man!  But part of me thinks that if the film were slowed down, things might start to get uncomfortable.  You might pry a bit at the story that I’m not sure makes any sense if told in complete sentences.  You might actually pause to consider whether the girl who was just threatened with sexual assault really did just express disappointment when her antagonist suggested that he might find hotter girls upstairs.  So maybe it’s a good thing that everything just clicks right along somewhere between “breakneck” and “va en chinga.”

So I'm not sure what to think about the pacing and timing, but I know I hate the shaky camera.  I guess it's what you get when you hire a bobblehead doll for your cameraman, but the frequent cuts jerk you around like you're on a semi-functioning tilt-a-whirl.   Maybe the kids can stand this stuff—they pop their vikes and their L and just ride the lightning.  But it’s all just yanking and bobbing to me (I’m aware that sounds salacious, but it’s really not).

Hey, I’ve gotten this far and I haven’t even mentioned the acting, which is pretty good!  Kelley Blatz and Brittany Curran are totally watchable in the lead roles, and Curran especially seems to capture that rare blend of pretty and smart and tough that mark hallmark scream queens.  The supporting cast is similarly good, and here is where I get to what I’ve been wanting to get to all along.  I want to tell Amber’s story (as played by Gage Golightly).  Just Amber’s story.  Spoilers are so very much going to happen here.

Amber's Story

Amber is a girl.  When we first meet her, she is in the backseat of a car . . . for sex!  She winks to let us know that she’s sassy, not shy.

Amber is into metaphysics and crystals and that jazz.  She lets us know that today is a day when the moon is in its “seventh sphere” or something and that everyone’s third eye is dilated.  My point is: she has hobbies. 

 Her boyfriend, Brad, isn’t into the supernatural stuff.  When she says she believes that they could “levitate” a younger kid, he bets her she can’t.  Actually, what he says is: “If this doesn’t work, I get to invade the forbidden shaft!”  To which another character points out helpfully, “He’s talking about her ass!” She says "done," and another character says "game on!"  Game on!
Does she succeed at levitating the kid?  It’s sort of unclear.  What does happen is that the kid becomes possessed by an evil demon!  Brad and Amber fight about whether or not the terms of the bet were fulfilled.

A guy with a shotgun shows up and threatens to call the police.  Amber reveals that she has just gotten into Community College and has her whole life in front of her.  Shotgun guy gets uncomfortably close and suggests that she have sex with him in exchange.  It’s awkward.  Because Brad’s like right there.  And they haven’t even worked out what’s going on with the “forbidden shaft” thing yet.
 Shotgun guy hears something upstairs.  Wonders if that’s where the hot girls are.  Amber is disappointed.
They perform an exorcism on the kid who was possessed.  It doesn’t work.  And then it does or something.  Anyway, after a lot of hard work, the kid who looks a lot like the Jay who is friends with Silent Bob is totally fine and back to normal.
 But now Amber is possessed!  What are they going to do now?

Amber screams and pushes people a lot.  She stabs one guy with a spoon. Then she stalks the corridors doing the possessed spiderwalk like she invented it.
There’s a fight, and Amber has toothbrushes shoved into her eyeballs while covered in fire extinguisher stuff.

She’s sort of twitchy on the floor doing snow angels.  It's sort of sad, because you remember that she's really just a kid.

But wait, she’s not dead!  She attacks again.  This time her head is wrapped in plastic and beaten with a fire extinguisher until it’s pulp.   

 Now she’s dead.  Rest in peace Amber, hope you get to that community college in the sky.

What I take from Amber’s story are two things: (1)  Amber gets a lot of backstory.  We know more about her than almost any other character: she has hobbies, she has a dream, she has sex and knows how to use her sexiness for power.  She also has insecurities.  She’s a human.  We like Amber for being human. (2)  None of Amber's friends try to help her once she’s possessed.  They perform two exorcisms on the Jay and Silent Bob kid, but when Amber gets possessed, it’s all like “welp, time to kill her.”  And she’s killed brutally, too brutally even for a horror film that has several silly over-the-top death scenes. 

My wider point?  From Amber’s point of view, this film is a nihilistic tragedy.  You try and try, and then one bad thing happens to you and everyone else piles on.  And for them your suffering is some kind of disgusting comedy.  Your third eye dilated wide, you see the cosmic irony of it all.

Despite the treatment of Amber and the shaky camera, I've got to admit that I enjoyed Exeter a whole lot more than I expected.  It's crude, disjointed, and manic, but it's also fun.  It's largely referential, and one gets the sense that the filmmakers have a respect for the genre that they're working in.  The characters aren't deep, but they're imbued with an endearing self-destructive vitality by decent performances by a good cast.  There is a lot that goes wrong with Exeter (including its totally misleading title. I went in thinking that this was going to be prep school horror), but I'm willing to overlook all that for its solid hour and a half of brainless entertainment.  Disclaimer: I also found "Jersey Shore" to be endearing, so maybe my palate is a bit unreliable when it comes to crude teen humor.

Questions for Joe:
1.  Why didn’t they try to help Amber?

JD: When they captured the demon kid, they had six adults to subdue one pint-sized hellion. But with the gruesome death of the stoner and the possession of Amber, now you have four adults and a kid versus a MUCH scarier creature that just managed to score a foosball goal with a dude's tongue. Strong AND dexterous, and that means dangerous, Paul.

Also, this movie isn't about helping people. It's about being forced to kill your friends when they turn into monsters.

2.  At the beginning, there is a possibility that they will watch El Salvadorian pornography instead of throwing the party.  Is that a thing?  And how would the movie have changed if they had done the one rather than the latter?

JD: According to Google, that is likely illegal porn that people go to jail for owning. So I guess we would find out what happens when a group of teens stops being polite, and starts being real, in prison. Or to put it in Jersey Shore terms, Gym, Laundry, Laundry!

3.  The main character, Patrick, is embarrassed when he struggles to open a beer bottle for the girl he likes.  She then takes it from him and opens it herself because it’s a twist off cap.  He’s amazed.  So she explains to him “it’s a twist off.”  And he’s like even more amazed.  Is this a feminist moment?

JD: I don't know a lot about Pick Up culture or opening sets, but I'm pretty sure "Immediately fail at something," isn't prescribed there. So in that regard, it's not NOT feminist. Conversely, claiming that successfully opening a beer bottle is a proud moment for women might not not be not feminist. And as a math guy, I can tell you that (-2*Not Feminist) + (-3*Not Feminist) is basically a wash.

4.  We understand what Brad gets if he wins the bet, but what does Amber get if she wins?  Why is everything so unfair for Amber?

JD: She stabs a dude with a spoon. A SPOON. What I want to know is, why does getting possessed make you so strong? And what are these kids getting possessed by? It doesn't appear to be something that can talk, or figure out knots. Is there a hell for gorillas?

5.  What did you make of the class-based social message of the film?

JD: Oh no. I have no idea. Wasn't paying attention to that part at all. Think Joe, think! When a professor asks you a tough question...you tell him what he wants to hear! Yes, that's the ticket.


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