Greetings. I am a film critic from the future. The near future. So near it wouldn’t even impress you. Everything’s the same. It’s depressing. As a future film critic, it’s my task to electronically deliver spoiler-filled reviews of awful films from my present to yours with an aim to keep these cinematic atrocities from existing in the first place through the power of premature bad press. These are my chronicles: The Future Movie Reviews.
Raise your hand if the one thing that always bugged you about The Exorcist was its lack of CG vomit? I only see a couple hands, but you guys are going to f*cking love Len Wiseman’s remake. The remaining 99% of you may find some slight issues with the film.
Wiseman has basically taken everything we loved about The Exorcist and adulterated it with a series of typical modern horror tropes. What was once a mature crisis of faith told through a solid story of good vs. evil is now a neutered found footage hodgepodge of familiar beats lacking any gravitas. Luckily, it’s only 88 minutes long.
First and foremost, this film shares the original’s title but not its thematic intent. Wiseman has no interest in examining Catholicism or lost faith. Instead of the original’s two fully-formed exorcists (aged and battle-weary Father Merrin and the nearly faithless Father Karras), this film’s Father Karras conflates them both, offering us half a character in the process. Gone is Karras’ struggle over losing his mother. Gone is the creepy, beautiful prologue in Iraq. The character (dutifully played by a clearly slumming Michael Shannon) simply appears halfway through the film like some kind of Catholic John Constantine. We know he’s troubled merely because he looks like Michael Shannon.
Here’s how the film works: The first half blatantly rips off the Paranormal Activity franchise. After noticing bizarre changes in her behavior, single mother Chris MacNeil (Jessica Alba) begins videotaping her daughter, Regan (Elle Fanning), while she sleeps. Meanwhile, the film delivers its exposition via taped interviews between Chris, Regan, and a child therapist (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell). These scenes deliver exactly what we’ve come to expect from this genre. If barely visible sh*t floating by the corner of the screen still scares you, you might find bits to like here.
Once it’s clear to everyone that Regan’s possessed and not just an asshole, the child psychologist calls in Father Karras. The film shifts completely at this point thanks the to the Vatican-funded film crew following Karras around. Now, instead of boring static security footage, we switch to full color, high quality shaky cam. The change jars, but also artificially extends the film’s watchability. For a minute or two.
The film’s PG-13 rating keeps Regan’s verbal acrobatics tied down and bland. And crotch-stabbing is obviously out of the question. Instead, Wiseman relies heavily on CG distortions of her face along with a pronounced dependance on body contortion gags. If you liked the “Spiderwalk” scene from the original (or a version of the original, anyway), be prepared to get tired of it here. Regan spiderwalks so much in this film, she might as well change her last name to Parker and start fighting crime. Admittedly, the effect is a tad interesting through a found footage lens, but it soon wears out its welcome with a scene in which she spiderskateboards.
She also throws up everywhere, on everything and everybody. Thanks to the power of CG, Regan’s vomit looks like a blast from a fire hose filled with shiny Apple-flavored Gushers™ filling. Worst are the many, many, many instances where Regan spiderwalks and vomits at the same time. If Michael Shannon isn’t wiping vomit off his face in this film, that’s only because he’s too busy slipping in it like he’s walking on banana peels.
The film’s biggest problem, however, is its bizarre and sure to be controversial conclusion. I’m about to discuss the film’s ending, so those who wish to go in unspoiled should turn back now.
Like the original, the film ends with Father Karras inviting the demon, Pazuzu, into his body as a last ditch effort spare Regan’s life. But instead of using his rekindled faith to overpower Pazuzu and jump out of a window, Karras suddenly finds himself in a flaming CG Hell where he must fight a flaming CG Pazuzu with a flaming CG sword. Aided by Spawn, Karras defeats Pazuzu but only after sustaining injuries himself. At the last moment, an angelic form of Regan appears and gracefully carries him back to our realm where he awakens unharmed. Karras and Regan’s mom fall in love, and everyone lives happily ever after.
So this is a problematic departure from the original, to say nothing of the film’s sudden abandonment of its found footage aesthetic for a full-on action movie brawl in Hell which features the inexplicable appearance of a largely forgotten comic book character. On the other hand, while certainly stupid beyond belief, this might be the film’s best scene from a “so bad it’s good” perspective. For those who enjoy films of legitimate worth, however, this scene encapsulates the abject awfulness of Len Wiseman’s remake. If were were to exorcise all the offensive stuff, there’d be nothing left, save a tiny scrap of accidental camp.
Rating: One Flying Car, Three Hoverboards, and Two Taco Bell Big Macs