A slightly different take on the “Night Terrors”-series this time, as I noticed that I have not yet seen most of the works from director Scott Derrickson, only the 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, which I actually kinda like(one can easily buy Keanu Reeves as an alien, lol), even if Fox brass probably undermined every single production aspect of it. And considering that the man’s next film will be a “little” thing called Marvel’s “Dr.Strange”, starring the Cumberbatch, I decided to correct this little gap in my film knowledge, and watch all the three films I hadn’t yet seen, back-to-back. And as they are all more or less in the horror genre, it fits right into the concept of this column. So, without further due…
The Exorcism of Emily Rose(2005)
Derrickson began his career with a DTV sequel – the fifth part in the “Hellraiser”-franchise, called “Hellraiser: Inferno”. Very, very low budget($2.000.000, according to the interweb). Logically I shoulda started this column by that one, but I couldn’t find it anywhere(and the first two films are the only ones I consider worthy of the title “Hellraiser” anyway), so best to begin with the first Derrickson’s Big Studio film, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. Based on the much-publicised real case of a german woman, Anneliese Michel, who died in 1976 after mysterious events including exorcism attempts and psychotropic drugs and the subsequent manslaughter court-case against her parents and the two priests performing the exorcism, Derrickson co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Harris Boardman, taking the basis of the story from the 1981 book of the Michel case, “The exorcism of Anneliese Michel”, written by Felicitas Goodman. As the story was heavily fictionalized for the film, character names were changed.
Father Moore: “There are forces surrounding this trial… dark, powerful forces. “
The story begins at a desolate farmhouse, as a County Coroner arrives to examine the body of a girl called Emily Rose(Jennifer Carpenter). At the site, we see her clearly distressed family and a priest, Father Richard Moore(Tom Wilkinson). After the body is examined, a police officer arrests the priest. We then meet a young, hotshot lawyer Erin Bruner(Laura Linney), who is asked – by the church – to defend Moore, as he is being charged with negligent homicide. He on the other hand, was performing an exorcism. During the court case, we learn the story of Emily via testimonies/flashbacks; soon after entering a College with a scolarship, she begins to experience strange occurrences, strokes and hallusinations. Doctor’s analyze it as epilepsy and give her medication, but the attacks get worse and worse, and finally, as she has returned home, the family calls in Father Moore. By the end it’s up to the Jury to decide, was Emily really just a sick girl – or was she actually possessed by demons? And is it reasonable doubt, if the priest believes she was so? During the case, Erin also experiences some bizarre ocurrences, that cause her to question about the existence of demons as well.
Well – first things first; this is a hybrid movie; combining courtroom drama and an exorcism movie. The problem really is, that after about a million courtroom dramas and another million exorcism film, there REALLY is not that much new stuff, that a filmmaker can bring to the table. To his credit: Derrickson does manage to perfectly mimic all the tropes of both genres – the procedural stillness of the courtroom and the chaotic, violent world of the exorcism. But there is really not much here that could be concidered “his own vision”. I personally think that courtroom dramas jumped the shark decades ago and find them just boring; the exorcism scenes are at least energetic, with some flashes of a great sense of pacing and some inventive camerawork, but every time the film flips back to the courtroom, it just becomes boring. Acting is good across the board, especially Linney and Wilkinson – and Campbell Scott, who plays the prosecutor. Nice little nod to genre history there, as Scott’s father George C. played lt.Kinderman in “Exorcixt III”. But the REAL star here is Jennifer Carpenter, later best known as Dexter Morgans foul-mouthed Detective sister Debra in the Showtime series “Dexter”. Apparently Laura Linney suggested her to the filmmakers after doing a play with her on Broadway. Carpenter does such insane(and borderline inhuman) things with her entire body, face and even with her vocal performance, that director Derrickson said: “we saved a crazy amount of money in makeup, stunts and post-production, because she could just DO those things”. The story aspect of Linney’s characters weird supernatural experiences during the trial smell a bit too much like the “dramatization” of the event – I can understand the changing of locale from germany to the US, and changing the names, but that one rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. So, in a nutshell: A genre mashup, of two of the most overplayed genres in history – but one REALLY effing great performance. Worth catching for that, if nothing else.
“Sinister” was thought up by writer C. Robert Cargill, probably best known as a contributor nicked “Massawyrm” from the infamous website “Ain’t It Cool News”. It’s based on a nightmare he had, after watching the 2002 remake of “The Ring”, in which he discovered a can of film in his attic that depicted the hanging of an entire family. After coming up with a basic premise, Cargill the began to develop the screenplay with Derrickson, who was also on board to direct the picture. In creating the villainous entity of the film, Derrickson went to extreme lengths for inspiration, like searching through 500,000 images of original art in Flickr, with the simple one-word search “horror”. A picture was found, bought for $500 and the basis of the evil entity, Bughuul, was there. “Sinister” was again shot with an extremely low budget – $3.000.000 this time around – a standard amount at the Blumhouse production company(owned by Jason Blum). That’s why they keep making those big dollars = “Paranormal Activity”, “Insidious”, “The Purge” etc. All cheap to make.
Professor Jonas: “The symbol that you sent me isn’t a pentagram. No, it’s not something
that you would see teenagers or a Norwegian black metal band paint on the wall in goats
blood to be edgy.”
Ellison Oswalt: “Right.”
Professor Jonas: “Or to piss of the Christians. No, this is a little bit more obscure that that.”
“True Crime”-author Ellison Oswalt(Ethan Hawke) moves from town to town, writing books about unsolved crimes. This time he has done something he should’nt have, though, as he actually moves to the house of the crime victims. 4 members of a family were hanged from their yeard tree and one child is missing. As they are unpacking, Oswalt find a mysterious box from the attic. It contains a Super 8-projector and several cans of film. As he watches one, he’s shocked to find that the hanging is shown on one film. Watching more, he discovers the deaths of several other families, the filming dates spanning all the way up to the 1960’s. Who is this mysterious killer? Why does he do this? And what are those weird symbols and that strange figure called “Mr.Boogie”, that appears in the films(and seems to cross between realms). Will Oswalt discover the horrifying truth before he goes insane, or will HIS family end up on one of those films?
Well that was much better. Although the influence of “The Ring” is very obvious(the evil force appearing in jittery film, breaking the wall between film & reality), the execution is absolutely flawless. Derrickson showed promise in the suspense-scenes of “Emily Rose” and here he’s definitely playing on his strengths. There is a creepy atmosphere looming all over this film, from the dark corridors, the flickering light of the projector to the at-times extremely disturbing score by Christopher Young. Also, Ethan Hawke is damn good here. I have actually always preferred Hawke more in his Genre-roles(Gattaca, Training Day, Precint 13, Daybreakers even The Purge) waay over his dramatic/romantic lead-roles. He’s just so damn good at these types of pictures as he has a real knack at playing nervous and jumpy characters. You can really see the emotional collapse of his character here. Juliet Rylance must also be given credit for playing the wife, because the character avoids most of the typical pitfalls of “the wife”-part. And the two kids(Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario) are NOT annoying – that’s a BIG deal(once again – the kid in “Cujo”, I’m talking about you). All in all, an effective creepfest with an effective, if not fully original Boogie-man(pun intended). Of course, this being a BlumHouse production, sequel will arrive. Apparently Derrickson & Cargill are still on it as writers, so…might be worth seeing. This sure is.
Deliver Us From Evil(2014)
Derrickson reunited with his ”Emily Rose” co-writer Paul Harris Boardman for this one. Once again it’s a hybrid movie, and kinda sorta based on a book by an Ex NYPD-officer-come-demonologist Salp Sarchie called “Deliver us from evil”. Even moreso than in the case of “Emily Rose”, much of the the events depicted i the book were changed, for a more dramatic effect. Or to say it better: while highlighting that it was “inspired by actual accounts”, the film actually does not showcase any of the cases recounted in the book and instead features a completely original plot. The movie was produced in association wit Screen Gems again. With one addition to the mix: Jerry Bruckheimer Pictures. Uh-oh….
Iraq, 2010. A team of marines intercept a group of hostiles during a night mission. Inspecting the grounds, three of them discover a cave, almost resembling a tomb of some sort. They enter. As one of the men is videotaping the events, all the lights soon go off. While in pitch black, we hear them attacked by some force. Cut to three years later. New York. Bronx. Ralp Sarchie(Eric Bana), an NYPD cop and his partner Butler(Joel McHale), investigate several cases that all have some mysterious & violent aspects in them. Pretty soon they discover that all connects right back to that team of Marines, especially a man called Santino(Sean Harris). Sarchie meets Father Mendoza(Edgar Ramirez), who informs him that Santino may be possessed by an ancient demon, and he is actually trying to possess a larger amount of people to enhance his cause, and must be stopped before Dark forces take control of the…Bronx?
Oh, lawdy lawdy lawd. What a fucking mess. Another hybrid, like “Emily Rose”, sure – but this time there is absolutely no part that fits together. None. Not one. Let’s count this movies sins, shall we?
1) Boring: there is absolutely no suspense here. If you don’t count a couple of boo-scares, it’s all just blah. And as far as atmosphere goes, it’s all about trying to ape “Se7en”. I swear, it’s partying like it’s 1995. Color palette, lighting, constant rain in almost EVERY outdoor scene….not one original decision made there. Oh – this was a Jerry Bruckheimer production? Put this in line with his lesser outings like “Bad Company” then. Fits right in there.
2) Cliches up the wazoo: again, it’s nothing but a giant mix-tape of every possible supernatural and/or cop-movie of the last 15-20 years. You got the jokey partner? Check? You got a hero neglecting his family over work? Check. That family threatened by the villains? Check. Creepy, scratchy noises? Check. Weird latin writings on walls? Check. Every demonic possession and exorcism-trope ever made? Check. You got a cat scare? Check – but we got TWO: the first one with a FUCKING LION, even. Aaaaaaand – we got a fucking BARKING DOG SCARE, too. Sheesh. And – as a creme de la creme we have a interrogation room/good cop bad cop scene, but it becomes an EXORCISM/good priest good cop scene!!!! Boo-yah. Beat that! And it reuses every single beat from the original “Exorcist”. Clever, huh?
3) Who the hell in their right minds thought that Eric Bana and Joel “Community” McHale were perfect for a team of cops? That’s like putting Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan together. Oh, wait….
4) So, the main character has a “special power” or a “radar” as he calls it, that makes him more tuned to the demonic powers? Okay, that’s cool, but who the fuck came up with the idea that the signals come to him in the shape of The Doors’ music? That’s just beyond stupid. And is never explained, actually. As is not much of anything.
5) I could go on, but that would make me think about this film and I don’t wanna anymore. Whatever original idea the write’s may have had in their first draft was totally Bruckheimered. Avoid like plague. Deliver us from this movie. This actually makes me a tiny bit worried about “Dr.Strange” now….
You know what? If you wanna see a proper movie about a preacher man and a policeman, working together, do yourself a favour – rather check this one out: