The Last Exorcism Part II (“My Interview With The Director Of The Original”)

3 Mar

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Synopsis: “As Nell Sweetzer tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 28 minutes)

The thing with horror movies is that you either like them or you don’t. Does that sound like a “master of the obvious” statement? Well think about it, is there another mainstream genre that people either like or don’t like? Certainly not comedies: some people like lowbrow humor starring Rob Schneider (I do!), others enjoy clever and witty satires, such as In The Loop (me too!), but everyone likes some form of comedy.  Some people are picky about dramas and find many of them too slow-paced to watch, but everyone enjoys some of them. Even action movies and cartoons to some degree can appeal to anyone. Sure, many women will tell me that they find action movies dumb, and my father will claim he doesn’t care for cartoons, but show those ladies Die Hard and force my father to watch Wall-E and you’ll hear about how great those movies are for the next year.

This brings me back to horror movies. The same can NOT be said for them, because horror movies are not made primarily for the storytelling, nor for the development of the plot, but in large part for the visceral reaction that they give of fear and dread in the pit of your stomach. It’s as if every horror movie filmmaker is equally qualified to design a Halloween horror maze, because that’s what the movies are like: guiding the protagonist (and the viewer) through a zigzag of escalating tension (slowly creeping through house) followed by scares (ghost/slasher/monster attacks!) followed by false scares (cat screams and jumps out at the hero – a disgustingly cheap scare tactic at this point) followed by more scares again. Does this sound like something that everyone will enjoy depending on the story? Of course not!  Because whether it’s a good or bad horror movie, this visceral reaction  is simply a turnoff for many people who will quickly proclaim, “I do NOT like horror movies!” As for myself, although it’s far from my favorite movie genre, I’ve always liked haunted houses, so I have a fun time watching these movies and filtering through the good and bad ones. And it doesn’t hurt that my fiancée wants to see absolutely every one of them! And honestly, when they’re good, they often go underrated because so many people don’t like the genre; that’s a damn shame since watching a great one like Insidious or this movie’s predecessor The Last Exorcism allows you to see how the cleverness that went into them deserves just as much credit as the creation of a great comedy or drama.

This review is an especially unusual one for me, because the director of the The Last Exorcism – but NOT this sequel – is the warm and wonderful Daniel Stamm, a dear friend of mine. As such, this blog entry not only includes some glowing personal bias, but some fun tidbits of my conversation with Daniel himself that he is generously allowing me to report. As he sweetly embellished when texting with me yesterday, “I love that you are a journalist now!”

Before discussing this sequel, let me first describe the original. I would like to clarify my intentional choice of wording, because it really WAS incredibly original. The marketing made it look like a hand-held fake “found footage” documentary (or is it real?!) about a terrifying possession and as the title suggests, its scary exorcism. But really the marketing was quite misleading, and it was so much more clever and funny than you’d imagine. Yes it was “found footage”, and it followed a reverend who performs exorcisms, but the twist is that he’s actually trying to show the camera how fake all of it really is, and most of the scares that the previews showed were in fact hilarious scenes in the movie where he’s pulling back the curtain on the fraud that is demonic possessions and exorcisms, showing how none of it is real…until things start to happen, and a real possession seems to occur.  It was done with great humor, very natural acting, and although I was prepared to congratulate Daniel on the movie regardless of how bad it was, I was thrilled to tell him that I really DID like it! In fact Adi and Cindy spent the rest of the night talking about it and poring over the details and raving how great they thought it was; so this isn’t simply a scenario of fake Hollywood flattery.

Cut to the movie in question, the sequel, and it starts exactly where the first one left off. I find this technique in movies to be immediately captivating, because it rewards audiences who have seen the first one by not pandering to new crowds as most tend to do. So often you read a TV or Movie producer claim, “This season/movie is a great place for new viewers to come in even if they’ve never seen it before”, and when you watch it so much time is spent recapping things, or meeting new characters, that you feel like you aren’t watching a sequel/continuation of the story, instead you’re watching a remake. It can work, but there is no feeling of  loyalty given to those of us who have been following the story from the beginning. (Earlier this year I reviewed the newest movie in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and touched on this point. Feel free to click here to check out that short review.)

Immediately this sequel thrusts you into the world of the supposedly possessed girl from the original (played by Ashley Bell again) but follows it from HER point of view as she tries to adjust to normal life after the craziness that had previously ensued. The filmmakers made a fascinating decision that this movie would continue as a normal scripted horror movie, and not a “documentary” style one like the original. It both clashes with the original and melds beautifully at the same time, like how I felt watching From Dusk to Dawn when the first half of the movie’s gritty Tarantino-esque style suddenly becomes a campy horror movie. It’s refreshing to see things shaken up a bit every now and then, and it felt that way from the minute this movie began. (Imagine if your favorite reality TV show was suddenly a scripted show the next season…though some critics would argue that reality TV already IS scripted so that may be an ironic example.)

The rest of the sequel was entertaining enough for horror fans, but unfortunately lacking any of the clever originality of the first one. Without getting into it, the ending was so over-the-top campy that I still haven’t decided if it was an awful finish, or a risky, brilliant move that would make Brian De Palma proud. Ashley Bell is great in a more fleshed out role as the film’s tortured protagonist, and I really enjoyed the understated performance of a caring Muse Watson (who must somehow be related to Kris Kristofferson because they look so darn alike). The scares are average, the plot deviates into a bit of hokey territory as it gets further along, but the direction by Ed Gass-Donnelly was always crisp and effective, and with a sharper plot and story this director may be someone to watch.

But now the moment I’m most excited to share: interesting tidbits from my conversation with my friend Daniel Stamm, who had written and directed the first one, as well as some interesting insight into the politics of the film industry. And yes he did see the sequel:

Boaz – Did they ask you to return to make the second one? If so why didn’t you return? If not, are you offended?

Daniel – It’s a fascinating, political thing in the film industry…if producers have a project and they offer it to a director, and that director declines and it gets out that he turned it down, it can be the end of the project. The value of the project immediately diminishes. No producer wants to say, “Hey, I have a project that wasn’t good enough for ________, but do YOU want to do it?” And no filmmaker wants to be the producers’ second choice. So they don’t actually formally ask the question.

Boaz – What happened in your specific case?

Daniel – We had an informal meeting where they told me the idea for the sequel and what they wanted to do with it. “Gauging interest” I think you’d call it. I liked the overall idea but I had another movie I had already been offered (Angry Little God, currently in post-production), and I felt I had said everything I wanted to say about Nell’s story (Nell is the main character of The Last Exorcism II, played by Ashley Bell).

The conventional wisdom is that you can only win by NOT doing a sequel to your own movie. I wanted to try to widen my horizon beyond horror, so I said I didn’t want to do it. But again, they never ASKED me to do it, and I honestly have no idea if they would have wanted me to do it if I had said that I wanted to direct the sequel.

Boaz – Fascinating politics! What did you think of this sequel when you saw it?

Daniel – I LOVED the sequel. I really did. It was just the biggest “trip” to see Nell continuing her journey (that we started). It was such a thrill. They could have sent her to Mars to grow magic broccoli and I would have loved every second of it. Ashley (Bell) is SO good! And I honestly think the director (Ed Gass-Donnelly) is pretty goddamn talented himself. All that Polanski-esque dread he built up…I am in awe of him. I couldn’t have done that. 

If only Daniel could be connected to every movie I watch, my reviews could be even more fun to write!

The movie was better than The Devil Inside, an exorcism movie from last year which was completely average and unoriginal, and lacked this film’s crisp direction and fascinating predecessor. It was worse than…The Last Exorcism. Lazy choice? Sure, but how could I NOT go with it, it’s true!

Quality Rating: B- (Good acting, crisp direction and continuing where the first left off in an innovative way bumped this from C-grade territory)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Tons of extra fun was had by watching Daniel’s movie, and looking forward to discussing it with him)

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7 Responses to “The Last Exorcism Part II (“My Interview With The Director Of The Original”)”

  1. zralston March 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Wow, that’s awesome that you’re friends with Daniel Stamm. Thanks a lot for reporting his thoughts. As you see here: (https://privatejokershead.wordpress.com/top-10-lists-movies/) the original made my top 10 list in 2010. So obviously I love it — I think it’s the best found footage horror movie ever made, and yes that includes Blair Witch, all the Paranormal Activities, Cloverfield, [REC]/Quarantine, etc. etc.

    Bring Daniel to poker night!

    Like

    • Daniel March 5, 2013 at 12:24 am #

      I am flattered! Thanks for the kind words! I suck at poker, unfortunately – as Boaz can attest to… 🙂

      Like

      • boazconstrictor March 5, 2013 at 12:27 am #

        It’s true, he falls asleep at the table, but then again he also falls asleep during Kill Bill in spite of loving it, so his sleep/wake cycle bears no indication on his true feelings. 🙂
        But yeah, poker isn’t “in the cards” for this friend. 🙂

        Like

  2. boazconstrictor March 5, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Ha, that’s SO cool that you’re independently a fan! Stamm is seriously one of the nicest people I’m friends with, and I’m friends with many nice ones. But seriously, he’s as nice as it comes, and I’m glad you independently agreed it was a great movie, I’ll share your post with him!

    Like

  3. Tim McFarlane April 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    That’s amazing you got an interview with the director. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to sit down and speak with a director about movies. You’re so lucky to get the opportunity.

    I am going to have to check your other posts. Thanks for the link. Consider me a follower now.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Ooh, thank you, I knew it was a great one to share but don’t get too excited, none of my other posts include “celebrity” interviews! 🙂
      But yes, he was really candid and insightful. Thanks so much for reading and following, I’m flattered!

      Like

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  1. 13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director) | Boaz's Movie Obsession - April 26, 2014

    […] Stamm, I would strongly recommend it as it is one of my all-time favorite blog-posts, linked here for you to read before or after my latest one […]

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