The Last Exorcism Part II begins by questioning the nature of identity and how it relates to our past. Are we defined by the events that have scarred us? How much power do we have in changing our natures and, in turn, our fate? These are the questions that our incredibly bendy friend Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is facing after she escapes from the events of the first film.
The Last Exorcism Part II picks up where the first left off, with clips that quickly illustrate the events of The Last Exorcism for those who are just tuning in. That first film was a documentary-style flick about a preacher named (Cotton Marcus) Patrick Fabian who brings along a camera crew to film his last ever exorcism, a ritual that the preacher no longer believes in until he meets Nell, her father Louis (Louis Herthum) and her brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones, once again playing the creepy ginger card). It's not clear whether Nell is exhibiting symptoms of a mental breakdown, perhaps the result of sexual trauma, or if she's actually possessed.
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What was successful about the first, an interesting take on the tired exorcism trope, was that it was really an examination of faith. It wasn't particularly important whether or not Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) was actuallypossessed, just that it caused Cotton to rethink his faith. A similar ambiguity, this time about identity and self-actualization and even sexuality, is played with in the sequel until about two-thirds of the way through, when screenwriters Damien Chazelle and Ed Gass-Donnelly throw any sort of mystery out the window and turn it into some freaky fake voodoo will-to-power nonsense.
After a brief stint at a New Orleans institution, where a nurse secretly snipped a chunk of Nell's hair for her gris-gris bag, Nell is hustled off to a halfway house for girls even though her grasp on reality is still a bit shaky. This house looks more like a really nice old house turned into a dorm, and the supposedly streetwise young girls are just PG-13 racy. With help from the guy who runs the halfway house — is he a therapist? A social worker? — Nell decides she's more than her past, more than a damaged girl who is controlled by the small-minded fears instilled in her by her father. She stops wearing her cross and starts hanging out with the other girls in the house; she even gets a job as a housekeeper at a hotel and begins an awkward romance. The demon inside her — call it Abalam or PTSD or a psychosexual freakout — begins to play tricks on her again. Is she crazy? Is there a cult after her? Is Abalam on the loose? What is the devil inside her? Although it lingers a little too long on the build-up, this is the most enjoyable part of the movie. Bell is interesting to watch, beyond her ability to contort her body, and it's sweet to see Nell bloom. She's equally talented at portraying someone who's losing her grip.
Chazelle and Gass-Donnelly, who also directed, try a mishmash of answers that take us through a meeting with the aforementioned nurse, Cecile (Tarra Riggs), and other followers of what Cecile calls "The Right Hand Path." What happens is a sort of grab bag of religious and occult symbols, from voodoo veves and other magical symbols that are painted on walls (and catch fire!) to mysterious talk of some sort of end-of-days stuff. They even name-check Baron Samedi. That's cool and all, but it doesn't make a lot of sense in context except as a parallel to the Christian rituals in the first film. It looks like the screenwriters did some research, but the bulk of it seems to have come from movies like The Believers and the New Age section of their local bookstore, and it only serves to exoticize these belief systems. That's a nitpicky detail compared to the bigger issue, which is that the audience is bludgeoned with daft answers to Nell's problem. They do raise some interesting questions about identity, destiny and perhaps religion itself that are impossible to discuss without giving away the ending. Still, it's unwieldy at best.
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One small bone we're thrown is that Gass-Donnelly doesn't use the same shaky-cam technique that Daniel Stamm favored in the first film. Although it worked to the movie's favor, it can be rough for those prone to motion sickness. It should also be noted that Chazelle and Ed Gass-Donnelly weren't involved in the first movie; screenwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland didn't return for sequel duty. It will be interesting to see who turns up for the third Last Exorcism. The third? Sure, it hasn't been announced yet, but it would take an act of God (or perhaps Abalam) to put an end to this story.
[Photo Credit: CBS Films]
TV pilot bonanza! NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and The CW have been on a greenlighting binge, ordering 25 pilots for consideration among their fall 2013 lineups. Among them are the TV spinoff of the venerable Beverly Hills Cop franchise, starring Brandon T. Jackson as the son of Eddie Murphy's titular lawman and already given a series order; a new Western from Lost scribe Carlton Cuse for NBC; a Hunger Games-meets-The-Bachelor dystopian sci-fi thriller for The CW; and the first network adaptation of a Swedish crime novel series. 25 is a lot to wrap your head around, so we've ranked what we found to be Top 10 most intriguing of the lost. Don't worry, we'll let you know about the others too on the next page, but these are the ones that really caught our eye.
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1. Sleepy Hollow (FOX)
Alias scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman gave one beloved franchise a 21st century makeover with their stellar script for 2009's Star Trek. Now they're looking to give Washington Irving's classic American folk tale about upstate New York schoolteacher Ichabod Crane running afoul of the legendary Headless Horseman a modern-day twist. In this version, the pilot for which will be directed by Live Free or Die Hard's Len Wiseman, Crane partners with Sleepy Hollow's female sheriff — something tells us her name might be Katrina Van Tassel — to investigate the battle of good versus evil that has engulfed the soporific burg.
2. Beverly Hills Cop (CBS)
The Shield creator Shawn Ryan didn't skip a beat after the failure of his first incursion into network television: ABC's submarine drama Last Resort. The pilot he wrote for the small screen version of '80s action-comedy juggernaut Beverly Hills Cop focuses on the son of Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley, played by Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder). Murphy, however, will appear in the pilot and executive produce the show along with Ryan. Mostly, though, after years of gritty, forensics-heavy procedurals it's exciting that CBS is embracing the idea of injecting a little humor into its typically stodgy crime drama format.
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3. Sixth Gun (NBC)
Lost's Carlton Cuse is a busy man. He's already exec producing A&E's Bates Motel and FX pilot The Strain, his collaboration with Guillermo del Toro. Now he's serving as EP on Sixth Gun, a Western pilot picked up by NBC with a script by feature writer Ryan Condal, who's penned the upcoming Hercules: The Thracian Wars for Brett Ratner. Sixth Gun is about a legendary six-shooter with possibly supernatural power that falls into the hands of a young girl and makes her the target of every baddie in the West. Paging Hailee Steinfeld.
4. Delirium (FOX)
Based on Lauren Oliver's bestselling sci-fi book trilogy, Delirium is about a future world in which love has been declared illegal and is even rendered obsolete via a mandatory lobotomy-like procedure. Series protagonist Lena Holloway has 95 days before she herself is forced to submit to the love-killing surgery...only to find herself actually falling in love as time runs out. Think Brave New World meets Dollhouse.
5. The Returned (ABC)
The Killing's Aaron Zelman wrote this pilot about a mystical town called Aurora, where residents' dead loved ones return to visit them. Not so much in a zombie way, more like an existential Solaris way. It will probably go easy on the Tarkovsky long takes.
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6. Backstrom (CBS)
Leif G.W. Persson is the first Swedish crime novelist to get a pilot order with a major U.S. network. (Kenneth Branagh's version of Henning Mankell's Wallander airs on PBS.) His character Ernst Backstrom is being described as criminology's answer to Dr. Gregory House: an overweight, misanthropic forensics expert who's great at his job despite his personality disorder.
NEXT: The rest of our Top 10, plus a round-up of other pilots in development at CBS and ABC.
7. The Selection (The CW)
In development at The CW since 2011, the adaptation of Kiera Cass' novel is kind of like a dystopian version of The Bachelor. Correction: a more dystopian version of The Bachelor. 300 years in the future, a working class woman finds herself the winner of a lottery to compete against 25 other would-be brides for the hand of her nation's "Royal Prince." A fierce competition ensues.
8. Untitled Secret Service Thriller (NBC)
A rookie secret service agent finds himself plunged into a major international conspiracy. And that's just his first day on the job! The official logline promises that he will cross moral and legal lines, which can only mean one thing: torture! It's been too long since we heard Jack Bauer scream, "I'm gonna need a hacksaw!"
9. Holding Patterns (NBC)
Writer Justin Spitzer has proven himself a master of hilarious anti-comedy — a longtime producer on The Office, he wrote the classic Stanley-centric ep "Did I Stutter?" — and this new half-hour sitcom should be no exception. It's about a group of people whose lives are forever changed after they suffer, and survive, a plane crash together. Kind of like Lost with a funny bone.
10. The List (FOX)
Sure, the concept sounds like a rip-off of Skyfall but...wait, Skyfall was unbelievably awesome so who cares? The master list of everyone in the Federal Witness Protection Program is stolen, and one by one each member of the program is killed. It's up to a U.S. Marshal to track down the source of the breach and relocate the surviving witnesses before it's too late.
Friends With Better Lives
Each of the thirtysomethings who anchor this multicam sitcom thinks that they have the best life of their circle of friends. Smugness alert!
Single-camera sitcom from writing team Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitzky (Bad Teacher) about a group of women in their 30s who should have their lives figured out, but don't. In fact, not even close. Girls for Generation Y.
Charlie's Angels' helmer McG produces the first of two obvious cash-ins on the nighttime soap success of Revenge. This one is set on the sandy shores of Venice, CA and is about two rival families making power plays against each other. Bitchery required, clothing optional.
The second cash-in on Revenge. A married female photographer begins an affair with the power attorney who's defending a murder suspect. Guess what? Her husband's the prosecutor in the case.
NEXT: The pilots that have been ordered by Fox and The CW.
Untitled Sean Hayes Comedy Pilot
The multicamera sitcom format and Sean Hayes are kind of in a co-dependent relationship. They both need each other to be truly successful. Hayes, for one, would like everyone to forget about his role as Larry in last year's Three Stooges reboot. So he'll be playing a stressed out dad whose 14-year-old daughter moves in with him right around the same time he gets a difficult new boss at work.
Untitled DJ Nash Comedy Pilot
Jason Bateman's Aggregate Films is producing this single-camera comedy written by DJ Nash, and loosely based on his life, centering on a young kid who worships his blind father and struggles with the fallout from his parents' divorce.
Girlfriend in a Coma
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. After almost two decades in a coma, a 34-year-old woman wakes up to find she has a 17-year-old daughter from a pregnancy she never even knew about. Kind of like Kill Bill, but presumably with fewer geysers of blood. Also, it's supposed to be a half-hour comedy.
In this hour-long drama, the world's most dangerous criminal turns himself in in exchange for an immunity deal in which he'll rat out all of his associates past and present. But does he have an ulterior motive? Intrigue.
Welcome to the Family
An unplanned pregnancy among two of their younger members brings an Anglo family and a Latino family together. The culture clash of the two broods is funny because they're so different, yet so much the same. NBC's most obvious attempt at a half-hour Modern Family clone yet.
I Suck at Girls
Based on Justin Halpern's follow-up book to $#*! My Dad Says, the concept is a coming-of-age sitcom about an incredibly awkward teenage boy. Fox has already given it a series commitment.
To My Assistants
Kind of like a tube version of Horrible Bosses, this half-hour comedy focuses on the harried, overworked, underpaid assistants at a big New York law firm who band together to cope with the wretched antics of their superiors.
Friends & Family
The U.S. version of Britain's Gavin & Stacey, about what happens when a long-distance romance becomes a short-distance romance.
Writers Justin Spitzer and Andrew Gurland scripted the pilot for this comedy about a wacky family trying to fit in to a very normal Midwest community.
Okay, it's kind of a cheat to include this Vampire Diaries spin-off here, since its pilot is already slated to air as a VD episode this April. Joseph Morgan will star as power-drunk werewolf/vampire hybrid Klaus and Daniel Gillies as Elijah when the action moves from Mystic Falls, VA to New Orleans.
Director Taylor Hackford (Ray, Parker) is producing an hour-long drama about a scandal that engulfs a Virginia naval base and the surrounding town. Leave it to The CW to build a show around hot guys in uniform.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures, Harper Collins, Harper Teen, WENN]
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The faux-documentary “cinema verite” camera style is increasingly prevalent in horror flicks these days and not just because the technique enables budget-conscious genre filmmakers to expend fewer resources on things like locations lighting and visual effects. When done convincingly as in the surprise blockbuster Paranormal Activity it adds an element of chilling authenticity that can dramatically enhance otherwise weak or derivative material. When done poorly as in the hokey alien-abduction thriller The Fourth Kind it comes off as little more than a cheap cinematic trick.
The faux-doc approach is for the most part put to effective use in Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism an unpretentious indie thriller that aims to blend the ethereal terror of William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist with the this-is-really-happening novelty of The Blair Witch Project. Its cast made up primarily of modestly talented vaguely recognizable TV actors is led by Patrick Fabian as the Reverend Cotton Marcus a handsome charismatic preacher bred from the cradle to spread the Word. But beneath his true believer facade lies a profound disillusionment with his faith the roots of which he frankly confesses to the documentary crew he’s assembled to chronicle his last cynical days in the pulpit. When he receives a letter from a distressed father pleading for him to perform an exorcism on his seemingly schizophrenic child Cotton embraces the opportunity to record the most bogus of religious rituals for posterity. (Cinephiles will note the story’s strong resemblance to that of Marjoe the Oscar-winning 1972 documentary about a traveling evangelist.)
To the creepy backwoods of rural Louisiana Cotton and his documentarians go encountering a handful of colorful yokels before arriving at the ramshackle house belonging to Louis Sweetzer a stone-faced alcoholic whose faith adheres to the more superstitious fire-and-brimstone variety of Christianity. Louis’ delightful brood includes Caleb (Caleb “Clammyface” Jones) a prickly unstable skeptic and Nell (Ashley Bell) a friendly gracious 16-year-old. All kids are little demonic at that age but bright-eyed Nell’s malevolent fits go beyond the typical hormone-fueled teen tantrums: Among her unusual hobbies are contorting her body into inhuman poses drawing ominous pictures of grisly murders and mutilating housepets and farm animals. Surely Satan and his minions must be involved.
It’s a clever ploy by the filmmakers to set The Last Exorcism in the deep south a place that needs no supernatural help to scare the bejesus out of people. Each of the three members Sweetzer family are creepily off-center as if their drinking water is spiked with equal amounts of Ambien and Dexedrine. Even the sweetly innocent face of the unpossessed Nell has an unsettling quality to it (it's oddly reminiscent of Vampire Weekend's controversial Contra album cover). All of which suggests that Cotton and his documentary crew are about to be taught a painful lesson in redneck theology.
Director Stamm’s principal aim is to unnerve rather than shock and while The Last Exorcism features its fair share of scares its tone is geared more toward keeping you on the edge of your seat than making you jump out of it. Disturbing details about the Sweetzer family are gradually revealed giving rise to insinuations of incest and other acts far more sordid than mere demonic possession the likelihood of which appears ever more possible as Cotton’s hocus-pocus treatments for Nell serve only to exacerbate her violent episodes. The film is betrayed at times by inaccuracies (Cotton employs a crucifix as one of his props apparently unaware that they’re the sole domain of Roman Catholic clergy) and its chaotic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it climax which pack about a half-dozen twists into a 90-second flurry of darting camerawork and what appears to be community-theater reworking of Rosemary’s Baby resolves matters in a devilishly disappointing fashion.