Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jumping on the Band Wagon: Piranha 3D and The Last Exorcism

Seen as I enjoyed discussing The House on Haunted Hill, I thought I should mention some more films. I am very much into horror films, and am always interested to see people discussing them. Maybe someone will read this and it will spark some chat about the genre. I plan to look at some more overlooked films I think deserve a second chance in the future, but for now, I want to put my thoughts out there about two of the summers bigger horror fares. What I say will probably just echo the majority, but I have been watching a lot of films recently and these two represent extreme ends of the spectrum. These films are Piranha 3D and The Last Exorcism.

Piranha 3D represents all that is good about big budget horror. I have been a fan of Alexandre Aja for awhile now (Haute Tension, Hills Have Eyes remake and, yes, I even enjoyed Mirrors) and the first thing you get when you watch his films is that he os obviously a fan himself. This film is full of genre nods and references and presents itself in a manner that would make any fanboy stiff (hehe). The basic plot is an earthquake releases a prehistoric species of piranha from a subteranian lake, who proceed to massacre horny teens during spring break at the lake. Simple, but oh how well it works!

The film is of a technical high standard, so visually, there is nothing to subtract there. The colours pop and the scenary intrigues. What could have been the major downfall of this film is its simple and unoriginal plot, but this is where the fan side of Aja mentioned comes into full swing. This film isn't trying to take itself too seriously. It wants you to go 'what are you doing, you fool!?' and 'that sucka gonna get it'. This is its key selling point. There is a sadistic glee in watching people be morons and receive their comupents for it. You don't watch a film like this to be intellectually challenge, and frankly, it would be the downfall of the film if it tried to be what it was never going to be. This film (and the original on which it is based) is a parody of Jaws, and not in a Scary Movie kind of way. It is self-contained and a great film in its own right.

One of the few flaws of Piranha 3D is its CGI effects. The eponymous creatures just look flat out fake. There's no mincing words here. But the thing is, it just doesn't matter! It's like watching a Waner Bros. cartoon. Everything is so insane and over the top. If they looked real, we might question what we are witnessing and lose out on the fun we are being invited to. This fun cannot be understated. Film fans will probably get more out of this than your regular Joe Bloggs, but nothing is out of reach. The cameos make this film. One of the very first things we witness is Richard Dreyfuss essentially reprising his Jaws role. Eli Roth, horror wunderkid and purveyor of 'torture porn' (ug... don't start me on this phrase), plays a gleefully irritating role, and we all know what happens to irritating characters in a horror film! My biggest shock was seeing Christopher Lloyd. I thought he may have retired from film as I haven't really seen him in much, but no, here is is. It won't take you long to presume that Piranha 3D takes place in the same universe as Jaws and Back to the Future! There are many familiar faces on show here, in terms of the starring cast, I will give the award to Jerry O'Connell. He is almost playing a character that is just too perfect and grimy to be real. I applaud you, sir.

Apparently the film got good reviews from critics and that they understood the tone of the film. Thank god. It did well in the box office and will probably be responsible for a slew of inferior ripoffs. but I ain't complaining! Horror has, aside from the notable exception, been very boring for the last few years (a pattern that becomes apparent every few years). This film is hopefully the turn of that trend. This may be our generations Return Of The Living Dead.

Now to the complete flip side: The Last Exorcism.

Another Eli Roth production (not directed by though, please not that!), The Last Exorcism builds itself up to be a mix between The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project (or do people say Paranormal Activity now?). I was very excited about the film for many reasons. One: I am a massive fan of found footage films (Cannibal Holocaust, Blair Witch, and the poorly acted but immensely entertaining Cloverfield). Two: I love the idea of a good exorcism film, with The Exorcist being a gateway into a darker world of horror for me. Three: I am a big Eli Roth fan (he goes right into the Alexandre Aja category of making a film a fan would enjoy). Four: For a moment, it looked like my short film, Lovely Dinner, was going to be in the same festival as The Last Exorcism was premiering in. Unfortunately, the film let me down in almost every regard.

If you've seen the trailer, you can see why this film was so exciting. It looked terrifying and had a simple but high potential plot (a reverend who is low on faith wants to do one last exorcism for a film crew to show them that it's all baloney, but then shit gets real) that could have made it one of the most terrifying horrors of recent memory. Unfortunately, it fell into more Exorcism of Emily Rose territory than Paranormal Activity. Allow me explain.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose was marketed essentially as a modern day Exorcist, but turned out to be little more than a slightly odd courtroom drama. This was frustrating as it was unexpected, but The Last Exorcisms tie to this is that it also is pretty much a lame duck. It isn't scary. At all. Anyone who has seen the one sheet should immediately be pissed off that the film contained no scenes of the possessed girl climbing on the ceiling. I understand the idea of the film being realistic, but it was marketed in a more balls-to-the-wall horror way. I didn't ever have reason to question if it was a real possession or not. I know the film tried to do this, but I honestly just didn't feel any intrigue. I think this may be an unfortunate result for any film about exorcism. Though it didn't hold up in my older age, The Exorcist is still the only good possession film I have seen (I am not counting things like the Evil Dead), with an intense straightness and just good and giving you chills. Maybe someone can point me on to some other good possession films, but so far, none have presented themselves to me.

Now, in terms of its found footage approach, it is shot well and acted appropriately, but this alone couldn't save the film. Standing out in the film, at home in any other typical film, is one of the biggest flaws of this piece: its score. Now, I am not saying it is a bad score. Far from it. I am a fan of Nathan Barr and could happily listen to his work in a thousand films. But this film is trying to present itself as an as-is documentary. This isn't Diary of the Dead, where we are aware the footage is cut together and music added for dramatic effect. This is more like Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch. The music took me right out of it, and sadly it had no other way of getting me back in.

There are plenty more problems with the final and very few saving graces (though, again, the acting and technical side is great. It is redoubtably story and the poor choice of non-diegetic sound that deflate a high potential film). Most critics reviews make mention of the poor ending. It's not that bad, but it is ripped right out of (and I say this without spoiling it) The Wicker Man. I know horror is famous for losing the plot (excuse the pun) by its last act and has been the downfall of many a film, so, even though the ending didn't do it for me, I could accept it and move on. It didn't ruin a good film and it certainly didn't make a bad one.

I, as always, could go on, but I really just wanted to make my opinion on two more recent and popular films known. Maybe if you want to relax back and watch one, you can take these musings into account (though neither are out on DVD/Blu-Ray until the new year!). Piranha is destined to be a good group film, perhaps mixed with pizza and beer, you will have some good fun, whereas The Last Exorcism is sadly forgettable (honestly, I wanted to like it. I really did). So, to close you out, save your time with The Last Exorcism and just watch its immense trailer and let your imagination create the story the filmmakers couldn't deliver.