DID YOU READ

Eli Roth and “The Last Exorcism,” a film that could make Jesus freak.

Eli Roth and “The Last Exorcism,” a film that could make Jesus freak. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

“The Last Exorcism” screened outdoors at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, and whether you packed a jacket or not, there were chills to be had.

Soon after producer Eli Roth thanked the crowd for “loving Satan more than ‘Twilight,'” a reference to the “Eclipse” world premiere happening across town, “The Last Exorcism” made its world premiere, three months removed from pulling out of SXSW after being acquired by Lionsgate and enduring some criticism along the way when it was revealed to have a PG-13 rating.

Only the MPAA knows how the latter happened. Any concerns about the freaky “Last Exorcism” skimping on the frights should be wiped away like the blood that makes its way onto the lens of a camera crew that accompanies the Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he travels to (the fictional) Ivanwood, Louisiana to cure the 16-year-old Nell (Ashley Bell) of what appears to be demonic possession.

Although other men of the cloth have had their doubts in films before, Marcus’ level of skepticism is well beyond “The Exorcist”‘s Father Karras. He chalks up the cross burns on the girl’s neck to a nickel allergy and uses props to enhance his initial exorcism.

06252010_LastExorcism.jpgDirector Daniel Stamm juxtaposes Nell’s writhing on a bed surrounded by candles with Marcus showing off the button he presses to emit smoke from his cross.

One wouldn’t know it from the film’s trailer, but “The Last Exorcism” actually has quite the sense of humor, something that’s long been a specialty of Roth to disarm an audience before sinking in the fangs. Here, with writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, who’ve blurred the line between reality and fiction before in their dark 2004 comedy “Mail Order Bride,” Roth shepherds a film of similar mock documentary structure.

The Rev. Marcus is introduced in a Christopher Guest-style opening that scans over pictures of his days as a preacher’s son who presided over exorcisms at age ten, and shows him in the present day so incredulous about his faith since his own son was nearly miscarried that he’s slipping his mother’s banana bread recipe into his sermons to see if anyone will notice.

There’s money involved when Marcus leaves his Baton Rouge ministry for Ivanwood, but what brings him out to the Sweetzers’ farm is the potential to disprove the practice that has been his bread and butter for years. As it turns out, the Sweetzers are nearly as dubious about him, with Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), the red-headed brother of Nell, tossing rocks at his car after telling the Reverend to turn around and Nell’s father Louis (Louis Herthum) suspicious of all the cameras. All of their doubts about each other are confirmed soon enough, which is what keeps “The Last Exorcism” on its toes.

06252010_LastExorcism3.jpgThere are skittish violins, loud thumps and inhuman contortions to pump up the suspense, but Botko and Gurland’s script is extremely clever in how it positions each character so you’re never quite sure who or what to believe. It’s a horror film of uncertainty well before the visceral scares set in, yet when they do, they’re rattling.

Not all of “The Last Exorcism” works — it could stand to be tightened up a little as the camera crew starts to get more involved as the film wears on, reminding the audience of what they’re watching, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the ending, which isn’t as canny about playing upon genre expectations as a lot of the film is, but the film’s too much fun to dismiss for those reasons alone.

As they say, the devil is in the details and in the case of “The Last Exorcism,” that’s certainly true.

“The Last Exorcism” opens on August 27th.

[Photos: “The Last Exorcism,” Lionsgate, 2010]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.