Monday, January 18, 2016

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

The Premise
The premise of Exeter is that a group of teenagers throws a rager inside a haunted orphanage and gets stuck inside with an evil spirit.

The greatest challenge of this premise (aside from the spirit zombie, more on that later), is the idea that an abandoned, decrepit building that has been gutted by a fire nevertheless has a fully functioning and airtight lockdown mechanism. No contractor has ever done work that good, ever.

The Story Arc
In the beginning, Good Christian boy Patrick works for Creepy Father Conway renovating the hideous abandoned orphanage of doom. When Patrick tells his friends that the place is unsupervised, they use Facebook to throw a party with at least 200 people. The macho, douchey friend Brad is introduced, as is his skanky girlfriend Amber, along with little brother Rory, nerd Knowles, and stoner Drew. There’s also the mysterious Reign, a cute girl with a secret!

The phrase “sea of vag” is spoken by at least two different characters, and suddenly there are only six people at the party, they decide to levitate a child, he turns into a demon zombie, the douche guy and bimbo girl hit the creepy priest with their car, and the demon zombie kid snaps the groundskeeper’s neck, causing him to stumble through a doorway with his head on backwards, where he trips and falls, shooting himself in the back of the head with his shotgun, because his head is on backwards.

The shotgun-head sequence explains a lot about Exeter: it’s gory, and it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s kind of fun!

So, what do the teenagers do? They try to burn the place down, but not before Brad suggests that they cut up the bodies and put them in jam jars. Specifically, jam jars. “Jam jars!” Why not mason jars? Or coffee cans? Jam jars. Brad asks "Any questions?" And the Stoner asks "Where are we gonna get jam jars?" It's a great question! They decide to burn everything, for lack of jam jars (the jam jars pictured below are Brad's imagined jam jars, not actual jam jars that exist. It's okay, I am confused, too).

Then, I think they get locked in.

Then, they exorcise the demon-possessed kid, but it doesn’t work.

At this point, you’re halfway through the movie, you’ve witnessed a dazing display of terrible decision making and one cool death and you think “Well, I have no idea where this will go from here! The exorcism didn’t work. I’m stumped!”

Then, Reign says “I think it wants to speak to us,” so the movie goes into backstory mode, and you find out that there was a scary kid at the asylum named Devon, who did bad things and was bad.
Then, the possessed kid is released somehow, and one character after another is possessed and has to be destroyed with awesome violence. There are no rules at this point, it’s completely unclear why anyone is possessed or unpossessed. But a tongue gets bit out and deposited in a foosball machine, eyes are burned out with acid, then they grow back, and are gouged out with tooth brushes (which are retrieved from a toothbrush shelf with many pristine looking brushes). A head gets sliced, and the sliced off part watches the fight from a piano bench. It’s good violent fun.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, but you don't really need sense when heads are getting smashed with spewing fire extinguishers.

And then you start to expect an M. Night Shyamalan twist that still manages to be pretty surprising when it arrives.

The Performances
The only one worth pointing out is Gage Golightly as Amber. As the dumb blond, she’s as trope-tastic as any of the other characters, like the stoner, or the nerd. But when she becomes Evil Possessed Amber, she becomes a surprisingly scary foe! And that is despite the fact that, when you are introduced to her new evil self, she is applying cheese whiz to a cracker! Why? I dunno. Because jam jars, I guess.

The director is Marcus Nispel, and he directed 2011’s Conan the Barbarian reboot, as well as the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot. Exeter is definitely the lowest point in his career. According to Wikipedia, it was going to be called Backmask before the name was changed to Exeter. This is interesting for two reasons:

1) Exeter is a bad name for a scary movie.
2) Backmask is worse! Exeter is a major improvement!

The Scares
Exeter isn’t scary, because the tension never gets a chance to build. It goes straight from innocent occult ritual, to evil zombie kid killed the groundskeeper. But, if you like things that are both disgusting and silly, you will at least enjoy the second half of the movie.

Questions for Paul

1) What was up with Brad’s death? Do you think they finished the film, realized they forgot to kill him, and just added something in at the end? (Brad dies by tripping and stabbing himself).

PH:  Well, throughout Brad is the NON-BELIEVER who casts doubt on exorcisms, God, and the Catholic church.  So it's ironic that gravity kills him rather than some supernatural demon.  Blasphemy makes you clumsy, apparently.

2) Why didn’t they try to subdue anyone else that got possessed the way they subdued Rory?

PH:  I was asking the same thing!  They don't even seem conflicted about it.  I wonder if it's a statement on friendship after high school.  At graduation you may be all like, "let's keep in touch, no one is coming between us, we'll all be friends forever, FF, stay cool and don't change!" but then people start to go separate ways, and after time you begin to forget your high school posse, you have new friends and new interests, and so do they.  In the past, that was that.  But now, with facebook, you don't have to say goodbye forever, farewell or adieu.  Instead, you have a steady reminder of your old old friends and their descent into demon-possession (political and social beliefs that, let's face it, just don't agree with your own).  You can't move on, just like these characters weren't able to move on because they were locked in a metaphorical insane asylum (the insane asylum is facebook, in this interpretation).  So rather than save their friends, they killed them.  And that, of course, is a metaphor for unfriending.

3) So, based on Devon’s age, the terrible orphanage would have burned down maybe six years before? Does that seem weird to you, too?

PH:  Hmmm.  I hadn't really considered the timeline.  I think I understand what you're getting at here--the backstory about the orphanage is given in a kind of grainy 40s newsreel footage, when it was actually like 2009.  But 2009 is ancient history.  That was back when swine flu was a thing.  When people caught flu from pigs!  It's positively medieval.

On a related note, I just want to point out that I absolutely love the horror movie convention when the good guys do research and FIGURE THINGS OUT.  I think it's what got me into horror movies in the first place.  You're all in danger and the only one that can save you must know how to work microfiche?  The library was the secret anti-ghost weapon, and if nothing else, I'm pretty good with libraries.  I still get a kick out of using microfilm and microfiche because I always think I'm going to turn up an old Indian burial ground or something.  So I just want to note that Exeter has a research scene (they go through old files and find a VHS tape, which I suppose is prehistoric, given how the film feels about 2009) and I loved it.

4) Bro, why jam jars?

PH:  Let's say that in the sequel the deceased comes back as a ghost and haunts a group of kids until they find and bury in hallowed ground all of his now-processed remains.  Then you could have a scene where, just when the kids find the jars, the ghost materializes out of the ether, points with one shivering skeletal finger, and intones "that's my jam."

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