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What was this?
on January 17, 2011
Thar be spoilers here
Based on its average 5/10 rating on IMDB, I expected a lame movie. What I got was a lame movie, with an extra heap of bad, and a twist ending so off-the-wall and incoherent, it's comical.
The movie plays itself like a documentary, featuring Cotton Marcus, a charismatic young reverend and family man who is perfectly performed with great subtlty and realism by Patrick Fabian. The level of sleaze you get from the way he preaches and what he says to the documentary crew is perfectly balanced by innocence and/or well-meaning. It's not exactly disrespectful or offensive that, daring the interviewer he could preach his mother's banana bread recipe and people wouldn't notice, in mid-preaching he ends up doing it, and receives the same exultations he received preaching scripture.
Another thing which struck me was how he claims he does not believe in demons or exorcisms, yet still does (and charges) for exorcisms anyway, not because he's a conman or a crook, but because he believes he is helping the person with their psychological delusion of posession, and of course is doing a job and needs to be paid; he has a family.
So for the documentary crew, he responds to a call for an exorcism to show them on camera. The amount of time the film actually takes just for the introduction and the prelude is rather long, and would be a waste of time if Fabian weren't so deeply involved in his role. When they come to the area, they stop a young man to ask where the farm is. He says they're going the wrong way, they need to make a U-turn, go past where they saw everything already, and go back where they came, which was a pretty elaborate way of telling them to go EFF themselves or to please leave. Then he throws mud clods or rocks at their car when they go to the farm anyway.
Awkwardness abounds as it turns out the man is the son of Louis Sweetzer, the guy who called about the posession. We then go about introductions to the various people, Caleb being the son, Nell being the daughter who was posessed, supposedly, and brief insight into the family history. Then we get an interesting few scenes as Cotton Marcus unfolds that bit of conman out, showing how he sets everything up like a magician or a carnie, dropping something into a bowl of water Nell's feet are in so the water bubbles, a sign that something is wrong with her, to making sure her bed is slightly wobbly, tying fishing wire around it, hiding small speakers to play various types of sounds, screams, 'demonic' voices, etcetera, with some of it interspersed with the actual exorcism itself. While Caleb has him figured out, he wants to watch anyway because it's funny.
The exorcism comes off rather comedic without any background music or atmosphere, and with Cotton Marcus hamming it up to a boisterous degree, concluding with him supposedly pulling the demon out, and clutching a crucifix, which a cutaway shows us is modified with an engine of some sort inside to blow smoke out, as though it were burning him.
Of course by the end of it, he goes to the hotel, the father is grateful, and the story isn't over at all, as you know, and Nell ends up coming to their hotel in the middle of the night, some five miles away from the house, kissing and grinding against the woman leading the documentary, and suddenly throwing up, and they take her to the hospital.
To their credit, the film makes it seem as though she's lying about this in order to hide a secret pregnancy or something of the sort, which the documentary woman initially suspects might be the result of her father raping her.
More and more horror-type stuff happens, such as Nell walking around at night, acting scary and quiet, to the cameraman shutting off the camera, only for the camera to come back on, obviously stolen by Nell as it films her feet, then films her wandering about crazily, and then using the camera to beat a cat to death, which SHOCK! she drew a picture of a cat with bloodspots and holes in it the day earlier! She also drew a picture of a man standing before a big fire with a crucifix, and of the cameraguy stabbed dead and the documentary woman beheaded.
Because the local pastor Joseph Manley had a falling out with Louis, they can't convince him to take the girl to a psychiatrist or a mental help specialist. She starts acting crazy again, including slicing Caleb's face with a knife, and after enough craziness and with Louis threatening them with a gun, Cotton Marcus agrees to do another exorcism. This time, Nell does crazier things, like arching her back sharply, screaming and claiming she's a demon, rather realistic without special effects loony-ness, but also rather convincing.
However, he figures out she's faking it (somehow) because she taunts him by asking if he wanted her to give him a "blowing job" which he figures a 16-year old girl homeschooled for several years wouldn't know what it's properly called. He calls out her, and she breaks down and confesses that she had sex with a boy named Logan who worked at a cafe. Her speaking in the third person seems maybe to imply that she's "pretending" to still be a demon or something. Pastor Manley and his assistant Becky Davis then come to provide religious comforting and counseling for them while Marcus and the others leave.
At this point, the movie is almost completely over, and thus far seems to not really have a coherent plot. What is shown is that Nell was apparently lying and pretending to be posessed in order to hide a pregnancy, but this isn't ever really made clear, and is further muddled by Nell apparently still "pretending" to be posessed even while describing the events leading to her having sex and getting pregnant.
Then, Cotton Marcus decides to stop by the cafe and find Logan. Logan claims he never had sex with Nell and barely knew her, that they just met at a party or gathering thrown by Pastor Manley, and implies he isn't interested in Nell, while the camera focuses on his vaguely feminine mannerisms. In the car, they just outright claim he's gay, and head back to the farm to find out what's happening.
When they get there, the house is empty, with satanic imagery painted all over the walls, and they head out into the woods, hearing chanting, and they find... Nell laying on a table in an open field, with a bonfire burning, and Pastor Manley dressed in red robes chanting stuff with people around him, and Louis tied up and blindfolded nearby.
This is apparently the twist ending; the Pastor is a satanist, and they're having some satanic ceremony in which they pull the baby out of Nell, and it's "not human" because it's small and making weird squealy noises. They then throw it into the bonfire for some reason. Then, REMEMBER THE PICTURES! The ones Nell drew. Cotton Marcus runs up to the bonfire as it grows comically larger, holding up a crucifix, and someone attacks the documentary woman and decapitates her with a shovel, leaving the cameraman to run off on his own when suddenly OH NOESZ he runs into Caleb, with a bandage over his sliced face! And Caleb kills the cameraguy. And then it just ends.
A movie with a twist ending usually (if it's a decent movie) has that twist ending occur as it a driving force behind the movie's plot, with blatant hints left for people to pick up, and completely misinterpret (like The Sixth Sense). Some twist endings seemingly come out of nowhere, but have a firm basis in the plot, some bit of foreshadowing, and ultimately make sense when you think about it in retrospect (like Saw, Saw IV, Fight Club).
What this movie's twist ending instead displays is a complete and utter arse-pull; it comes out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing, no buildup, no hints or clues, nothing whatsoever. And the level of surrealism to it makes it absurd, to the point where where I should have been shocked or terrified, I was completely withdrawn from the immersion of the film, asking "What the hell is this?"