Wednesday, December 20, 2017

SATANIC (2016) [Joe's Review]

In Satanic, a hapless group of Millennial friends inadvertently enters a contract with the devil to go to Hell. And Hell, it turns out, is made of white plastic tarps and spray paint.

My approach with Satanic was to watch it in pieces (I have two young children, so my "me" time generally comes in 15 minute chunks, which is about 10 minutes more than what my wife gets). So, the beginning and middle of this review reflect that approach. And then like a month passes and I just bang out the rest because Paul realizes that today is the blog's two year anniversary and we have to get something up! Anyway, enough about us.

The movie opens with silly depictions of the devil and satanism, and right when you're nodding along and enjoying the silliness of it all the serious music kicks in to let you know that what you're seeing isn't light. It's not funny. It's super serious.


Yeah, not funny.

Oh JESUS. Look what the devil's DOING to him!


Don't laugh! Because...

Okay, okay I'm pretty sure Coleridge never actually wrote that. But you know who did?

Comical? Vain? A parody of itself? No. Satanism is serious. Although it could lose some weight and up its game to at least not get blown off the stage by fucking Slipknot. Come on, Manson. You used to be good. I used to smoke a lot of weed. But, sigh.

Anyway, the movie starts with a young woman walking through what looks like a Halloween Boo-Fest level haunted house, with a bunch of pentagrams spray painted on hastily constructed plastic garbage bag walls. You later discover that this is Hell. The girl is visibly frightened when...something runs past her really fast! Probably not Marilyn Manson. Possibly Slipknot though.

And then we cut to a city skyline. I have no idea what was learned in the previous scene.

A car full of young people travels toward LA, billowing smoke and subtly written lines such as "LA spread your legs." The two in the backseat are a guy and a gal and they're smoking a joint and they're edgy and obviously going to die. The two in the front seat are wholesome and holding hands.

Questions for Paul

1) There's some throwaway dialog when suddenly wholesome girl slaps wholesome guy because "I hate that word!" Wait, what word? What?

PH:  The word was "pussy," Joe.  It's buried in the throwaway dialogue, and the guy slapped wasn't even the guy who said it.  But look, everyone is a bit raw about that Access Hollywood tape, so even though the writers couldn't have known what a politically-charged term "pussy" would be in the last half of 2016, the characters themselves already did.  Because they're caught in a time loop! 

2) Did Coleridge really say that?

PH:  Google turns up fuck all, so I'm pretty doubtful, but you know it's really hard to prove that someone didn't say something, because, like, were you there?   This is a tactic that students use all the time when writing papers.  They make up something like: "Wholesome girl named her two cats Marilyn Manson and Coleridge" and then when I express skepticism, asking them to point to their evidence, they say, "how do you know she didn't?  Were you there?" And I say, no I wasn't because this is a story and it isn't real and the characters don't really exist.  And they always nod sagely like they've won.

Or, wait, were you asking if Coleridge said "Pussy"?  Well he did.  In a letter to Mary Evans in 1792: "Indeed a cat is a very worthy animal.  To be sure, I have known some very malicious cats in my lifetime, but then they were old--and besides, they had not nearly as many legs as you, my sweet Pussy."  Billy Bush was probably the executor of his estate. 

Minutes 15 - 60

I recall enjoying this section of the movie. The characters are revealed:

Chloe - Doe-eyed final girl
David - Handsome and well adjusted boyfriend
Elise - Chloe's shallow and neurotic best friend who loves Satanism (played by Clara Mamet, daughter of David Mamet. The apple has fallen...all the way to hell!!!)
Seth - Elise's shallow and impish boyfriend (the actor playing him is 36, and that is way too old for this shit. Trust me, I'm 36!).

So, this Scooby Doo band of late 20-somethings is on their way to Coachella, but Elise and Seth are set on Satanic tourism in Tinsel Town. The main tension is that they keep trying to visit Satanic landmarks, running into extremely rude Satanists, and fighting with each other about whether or not what they're doing is lame or awesome.

Finally, after getting kicked out of a Satanic gift shop by a switchblade wielding cashier, they all agree to take a dorky celebrity tour of LA and have a freaking blast. As they bask on the beach in the afterglow of a good time, they decide to go back to the Satanic gift shop and follow the Satanic cashier to wherever it is Satanic cashiers go.

This leads them to a cabin in the woods where a satanic ritual is unfolding in a house that somehow only has 3 walls (which makes for extremely convenient viewing of the satanic ritual). When a blade is held up to a nude young woman, Chloe screams and the Satanists are alerted! The band runs back to their van and flees the Satanic spectacle.

It's shenanigans! It's also the end of a fairly plausible story about the time a group of friends followed a Satanist, saw a crazy ritual, got caught peeking and hella ran away. This is definitely the best 60 minutes of Satanic. The crazy thing is, none of it should be in the film.

If the elevator pitch for Satanic is "A group of travelling teens picks up a hitchhiker who gets them all on the devil's hit list" then that entire premise begins AFTER everything I've just described.

The good news for rockpaperhatchet fans is that the last 40 minutes are just terrible. I was worried in the first 60 minutes that we wouldn't have anything to make fun of. But my fears were completely unfounded!

There are three stages of the movie left to cover:

  • The freaky hitchhiker
  • Cousin's house gets messed up (by Satan!)
  • They all go to hell

First, the freaky hitchhiker. Full disclosure: she's not a hitchhiker, though they do pick her up at a bus stop. And also, she's not that freaky! This is what we're dealing with here:

That's actress Sophie Dalah pretending she's Alice the Satanic priestess. Sophie is young, attractive, and fit. But, the casting card clearly said "Attractive and undeniably fucked up somehow." Sophie brings a 1,000 stare and dreamily delivered dialog, but she's way too healthy for this role. I mean, I know casting is hard. If I say, "I need a rapping septuagenarian exhibitionist who can express embarrassment and glee at the same time" then wowee, right? What a challenge. But if your task is to find someone hot and fucked-up-looking in Hollywood, how is Sophie Dalah what you come back with? Did you ask Marilyn Manson if he knows anybody? Because I'm pretty sure those are the only people he knows.

Anyway, Sophie is disappointing, but Satanic was obviously cast and produced with the Bachelor watching crowd in mind, so I get it. Young healthy people want to watch young healthy people on TV.

And in a way, Sophie is the perfect choice for the incredibly, astoundingly, tremendously understated way she delivers the following lines:

There's an element of the last 40 minutes of Satanic that is easily relate-able: it's like when a friend says "Come on guys, let's go to this place, it's going to be awesome!" But when you go it totally sucks! In this case, their friend is suggesting that they go to actual Hell. And so, some of the fun in the rest of the film is comparing Alice's description of Hell to what they actually encounter.

The other thing that's really fun is thinking about the set budget and how the things you see are likely influenced by the complete lack of one.

For instance, they're trying to flee LA to get away from the devil when the edgy girl gets sick. They pull over in an abandoned lot with an incredibly well lit...Porta Potty!

When you see this, your first thought is "That's a really well lit porta potty." And your second thought is "That's probably an actual porta potty on what looks suspiciously like a movie studio lot." I wonder if it was even their movie's porta potty? It was probably It's.

Just wait until you see what happens to Elise (the one who feels hot and needs to get to the bathroom). This is her death scene:

One second she's in the porta potty and the next she's gone! 

But they hear her voice in a nearby building! They investigate and discover that the building is empty and well lit. This search will be a breeze.

But despite its ease, it will be incredibly...uneasy! MUAHAHAHAHA. Like when they happen upon the charred corpse...

Of Seth's cell phone!

That's the actual sequence. And it's NOTHING compared to what happens to Seth himself.

He's IN the stair railing! Wow. You're sitting there, you're the director, you're like "We've gotta kill this guy, but all we have is an empty building...and that...incredibly hungry looking STAIR. I GOT IT!"

One final thing. While Chloe is running around finding her friends' dead cell phones, you see all of these tarps hanging around on one of the floors:

When you're watching, you're like "I guess someone was going to paint in there." And you're right. But it's not just someone, it's the devil!

And he's TERRIBLE at painting. And what you come to realize is that THIS is actually hell. She's in it. And it's way worse than she expected, but not for the reasons that she would have thought.

Question for Paul:

1) If you COULD go to hell, would you?

PH:  Been there.  It was a rave in Binghamton, NY in the late 90s.  I attended while perfectly sober.  Two bathrooms flooded raw sewage onto the dance floor.  Beautiful it was not, but the confusion was real.

2) Did they hit Satan with their car?

PH: Honestly, I have no idea.  If you run over Satan, though, that's probably a pretty good indication that you've actually made it to hell despite what Apple maps might say.  You can just pull over and start getting pics for the 'gram right then and there.

3) When my date goes to the porta potty and disappears, I know I blame the devil. You know what I'm sayin'?

PH:  Uh, I think if you take your girl out to an abandoned warehouse lot for a first date, and she says she's going to the porta potty to freshen up but then never returns. . . it might be less Satan and more a combination of her basic sense of self-preservation and a ride-sharing app.

4) Was hell just not ready for visitors?

PH:  I think it was more a case of them going in the wrong door, like the freight entrance to hell.  Abandon hope, all ye who unload sundries here.  Also, abandon your sundries.  Right over there by the empty pallets and plastic tarp is fine.

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