Wednesday, April 26, 2017

THE SECRETS OF EMILY BLAIR (2016) [Paul's Review]

The Secrets of Emily Blair is the latest in the exciting new trend of exorcism movies with suburban white girls’ names in the titles!  But it dares to go further than The Exorcism of Emily Rose or The Exorcism of Molly Hartley or The Curse of Molly Hartley or Molly Hartley: Exorcist Cabaret!  ‘Cause in The Secrets of Emily Blair, both first AND last names are badges of white privilege!  In the Caucasian exorcism brinkmanship game, it won’t be long until we see the likes of: “The Possession of Bree Madison’s Pony” or “Untangling Ashley Kennedy Kaitlyn:  The Yoga Pose of Deviltry.” 

The movie begins with a priest being interviewed by a cop in one of those Silence-of-the-Lambs glass-lined cave-cells.  The priest says, “I am responsible for all their deaths.”  And then he clarifies, “No human is responsible for their deaths.”  Now this is something original.  It's been awhile since I took logic, but I think the syllogism would go like this:

1.  The priest is responsible for all their deaths.
2.  No human is responsible for all their deaths.
Therefore, 3.  The priest is not human.

So: Alien Priest!

Then the film flashes back to white Catholic dude with perfectly touseled hair William (Will Kemp) proposing to generic blonde protestant Emily Blair (Ellen Hollman) with a big diamond ring in a park.  Emily sighs and holds up a flower as she inspects the ring.  The flower is a wilting dandelion.

Then Emily gets infected/possessed while working as a nurse.  She’s trying to take blood from a homeless guy, and he ends up kissing her and forcing a bunch of black CGI gunk/homeless breath down her throat.  The guy dies, and everyone is like, totally not your fault Emily.  Stop beating yourself up.  He just DIED, ok?  And you’re pretty and have a gorgeous ring, and he was like, poor and gross, so don’t sweat it!

But they don’t know that she’s been possessed or something.  I say “or something” because while it is clear that she is possessed, there’s something else going on—some strange kind of allegorical fantasy world battle that the film keeps cutting between.  In real life, there Emily is, bandaging some kid’s wrist.  But in the mystic fantasy world, Emily is in a sad-looking studio forest, battling a big rubber-suited monster who punches her a lot.  I suppose this is meant to be her inner battle, literalized, but it raises a lot of questions.  Is Emily inside Emily’s mind?  And why is the interior of her psychology just a dismal bunch of shrubbery?  

Out in the real world Emily starts acting totally psycho and getting free passes.  She cuts a boy’s finger off while bandaging his wrist.  Doctor Love (so he calls himself) comes in and says, “the boy moved and you accidentally cut his finger off.” Emily replies, “But he didn’t move.” And the doctor says persuasively, “He did if you want to continue to work here.”  And she’s like: “Aww, thanks!”  There you have it folks.  A perfect 5/5 on the privilege meter with bonus points for a complete abrogation of ethics or responsibility.

William’s controlling and invasive mother, played by Sherilyn Fenn, arrives and is the in-law from hell.  In fact, the whole first half of the movie is kind of awful for Emily Blair (or Emily Blair’s demon), who discovers that she has agreed to marry a man who allows his mom to control his life and who says nothing when the mom foists a wedding dress on her or keeps warning her that “the clock is ticking.”  And he’s Catholic!  Which means that now our waspy heroine must convert to Catholicism, go to Catholic wedding classes, and wear her mother-in-law’s wedding dress, all while hosting an evil demon who couldn’t have foreseen any of it!  There’s a moment when I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t supposed to feel sorry for the two of them. 

Emily goes to a marriage class with the Alien Priest, tells him to “stop raping me with your eyes” and pukes on his desk.  When she gets home, she puts on a leather corset affair, seduces William, and then punches him in the face.  Oh yes.  There is a lot of punching in this movie:

1. Emily punches William in the face while he's trying to have sex with her.

2. Janitor Priest (I haven’t introduced him yet, but he’s a thing) punches Alien Priest twice in the face during a conversation.

3. Alien Priest punches Janitor Priest in the face without interrupting the conversation by any reference to the fact that they are punching each other.

4. Emily punches Alien Priest in the face.

5. Emily no-look punches William in the chest.

6. William punches Janitor Priest with a backhand.

7. William punches Emily several times while she's tied up on the bed.  It's a right-left-right combination that's reminiscent of Ralphie's technique on Farkus.

8. Emily punches a cop in the stomach with a gun.  The punch goes through the cop's torso, carrying the gun up to the cop's neck so that Emily can then shoot the cop in the head from inside her own body.

9. The Demon punches Mystic Woodland Emily several times.  

10. Mystic Woodland Emily punches the Demon.

Those are just the punches I can remember.  There are probably more.  It’s like the director thought the script needed some “punching up” and so the writer put some more punches in there.

Other things that happen in this movie:  possessed Emily takes a pregnancy test, and it turns out . . . negative!  It’s a really important scene that one could overlook, seeing as no one mentions it for the rest of the movie.   It lets us know that Emily isn’t pregnant!  This is one of Emily Blair’s secrets.  No one thinks she’s pregnant, but only she knows she isn’t.  

There’s also a scene where possessed Emily takes out two armed cops like she’s Predator (this isn’t a specious reference, there’s a lot of Predator in The Secrets of Emily Blair: “Do it! Do it now!” is a direct quote), but then is captured by William with the same “wrap-a-blanket around it” tactic that my vet uses on my cat.  To be fair, my cat is definitely possessed by the unholiest of demons.

And then there’s the time when possessed and homicidal Emily breaks out of her bedroom and is at large!  William and his exorcist gang of the janitor and the alien, instead of springing into action by going to look for her, bizarrely decide to mope around in the living room apparently waiting for her to come back.  And, although I was puzzled by this sudden malaise on their part, they clearly knew something I didn’t because come back she does!  And even she’s puzzled: her first line when they open the door for her is: “Why am I outside?”  Why indeed!

William, going full Predator-reference, has a long “Kill me!  Do it!  Kill Me!” monologue, except that, unlike Arnold, he doesn’t set any clever traps.  So he’s just plainly inviting the demon to kill him.  His reason?   He says enough people have died and he just wants it all to end.  But William, we implore from this side of the mystic fantasyland of fuzzy logic, if it kills you, per your demand, that doesn’t end the killing.  In fact it materially increases it! 

But the demon can’t kill William, apparently because Emily Blair is still alive somewhere “in” there (why is her inside a dead forest?) and won’t let it.  But where was she when the demon killed her mother-in-law?  That’s a thorny little issue that will probably come up in marriage counseling down the line.

The actual exorcism scene is an orgy of silliness.  Apparently Alien Priest hasn’t got enough exorcism juice to take care of it, so William has to yell sweet little compliments to the demon at the same time as the Alien Priest yells his exorcism spells. 

William shouts at Emily all the things he loves about her, which comes across like the most saccharine we-wrote-our-own wedding vows ever: “I love how you are with kids” he says, “I love how sunlight makes you sneeze.”  How IS she with kids, we think—the only time we saw a kid with her, she cut the little tyke’s digit off and then evaded the consequences.   “I love how the full moon makes you cry,” he says at one point, and . . . hold up for a second, the full moon makes you cry?  The sun makes you sneeze?  What happens to Emily on a partly cloudy day?  Does an eclipse give her hemorrhoids?

Meanwhile, in the forlorn patch of psychic turf in which Emily is battling the demon monster, we see her stand up.  She takes a heavy right.  She shakes it off.  The demon throws a wicked left hook to her jaw.  She shakes it off.  The story of her exorcism is told in a series of punches, which is as it should be.  And then she shoves the demon right out of her soul, or body, or hell.  This moment corresponds, in real life, with William baby birding her with holy water (get it? it’s secular romantic love AND Catholic iconography joining forces in one gross final maneuver!).

In the final scene, we discover that the Alien Priest has been recounting this whole story from his cell (presumably also the sexy bits, which I suspect would have been uncomfortable for everyone involved).  And the detective asks the Alien, if your story is true, then why are you taking the fall for Emily Blair, pretty blonde white girl?  

Because everyone does!  Everyone bends over backwards to white knight this girl and overlook the obvious signs that, demon possession or no, she’s got some issues: her physical health depends on the weather, her soul is an empty blasted heath, and she killed her mother-in-law by omission.  But the priest is willing to go to prison for this ethically-compromised nurse who lies to avoid malpractice suits, because, presumably, her name is Emily Blair and her blessed blonde dead-souled life is more important than his merely alien one.
Questions for Joe:
1.  Throughout the film, the possessed Emily says “bye bye, bye bye.”  What is she saying “bye” to?

JD: The first time that comes up, it's from the mouth of the possessed hobo who then vomits the devil into her. He, by the way, is played by Larry "Dr. Giggles" Drake. The implication is that she's going to go away and the demon is going to take her place.

And given that the demon is going to do that in the mode of the WWE by physically kicking her ass in the forest, I can only assume that the Bye-Bye is his signature move. Unfortunately, we never get to see it because Emily unleashes her powerful push to the chest technique which completely overcomes an entire two hour of faces punches. But whatever, it's still real to me, dammit. 

Anyway, I think the demon's Bye Bye move could have been a sleeper hold, and Emily's arm could have been lifted only to fall twice, but on the third time right as her boyfriend said "I love it when you wake up!" her arm would stay up! Her arm would stay up! And then she'd start hyperventilating and the demon would look around in bewilderment at the audience as she rose to her feet. And she'd start skipping around the ring and clapping her hands and shaking her head while still in the hold and then ELBOW STRIKE, ELBOW STRIKE, and then she'd run back of the ropes and BRING THE CLOTHESLINE, and then she'd slap the BYE BYE on the demon! And she'd win the Intercontinental Championship Belt at Wrestlemania XIII, brother! 

Huff, huff, huff. Which all leads me to say that if the demon's refrain for the whole movie had been "OOOOH YEEEAH" I think it would have been a better movie.

2.  A shared term of endearment for Emily and William is the phrase: “You’re my person.”  Do we all have a person?  Is that what love is, finding your person?  And, once you have a person, do you keep it ON your person?

JD: You know what would have been better? If they baby-birded all the time and that was their thing. And everyone was always like "Oh fuck, she just ate that lasagna out of his MOUTH". And then when it saved them it would totally recast all the previous scenes. You could even have a scene like the pottery scene in Ghost but with a big chocolate ice cream cone. And probably a lot of paper towels.

3.  What seems more incongruous, that the professional exorcist is a school janitor or that his name is Henry?

JD: Dude, that was Adrian Paul of Highlander fame. I mean, OTHER Highlander fame, Highlander TV show. There can be only one (per video medium). And the alien priest was Colm Meaney who played O'Brien in Star Trek TNG! It was O'Brien versus Duncan MacLeod in an exorcist movie. Nothing is congruous about that. The congruity test is negative.

4. Why do possessed people have such noisy joints?

JD: I couldn't stop thinking about how bad her breath must have been. I'm surprised there's never been a forced tooth brushing scene in any of these movies. 

5.  How excited does Sherilyn Fenn’s performance make you for the return of Twin Peaks this year?

JD: I'm super fucking excited for Twin Peaks, Paul. I love that show and everything about it. I hope it has aged better than Sherilyn Fenn.

Check out Joe's Review of the Secrets of Emily Blair!