DECEMBER 3, 2010
While some folks might find it slow, one thing that's great about The Exorcist is that it gives you time to know about both the priests and the little girl before the shit hits the fan, making you care more about their ordeal (and also make it scarier, as now these things are happening to real, three-dimensional characters). Blackwater Valley Exorcism (formerly The Devil Within), on the other hand, more or less starts with the demon taking hold of a teenage girl, which is fine from a pacing point of view, but rather crippling when it comes to whether or not the movie is any good.
A big part of the demons' shtick is revealing the characters' sins to one another, so she shows the father that his wife has been cheating on him, or that the sheriff has been raping women he arrests. Not the worst idea - but these revelations are pretty much all we ever learn about these folks. Are they good people who made a few bad calls, or are they just terrible? Hell if I know. Worse, they never make it clear which stuff the demon is saying is true or not. She accuses the father of molesting her, which he denies, but then he has no problem believing that his best friend is boinking his wife. So DID he molest her, if he is taking everything it says to be true? Who knows.
And it just never really becomes compelling in any way. Without any attachment to this girl beyond what we learn in flashbacks (such as the fact that she tried to screw her sister's fiance - everyone in this movie needs a sex therapist, it seems), I honestly didn't really care if the demon got the better of her, and/or if she/it killed the rest of the family. All I know about them is that they're a bunch of whores and assholes - good riddance, I guess. And due to the film's low budget nature, the actors are largely unknown (Jeffrey Combs is the only name, and he's the most villainous character anyway), so we can't even project our familiarity and fondness for the actor to make up for the lack of decent characterization. Like, the Mexican ranch hand is sort of a Danny Trejo type - if it was the ACTUAL Danny Trejo, it would be easier to sympathize with the character and care about his safety - we don't want Danny to die!
It's a shame, too, because with even 10-15 minutes of this sort of setup, the movie could have worked much better as a whole. The locale is pretty interesting (there aren't a lot of horror movies set in Nevada), and there's a decent twist in the 3rd act that keeps it from being too much of an Exorcist ripoff. I also kind of like the low body count - would be easy (and presumably, more attractive to investors and distributors) to have a lot of blood and kills, but its remarkably low on actual violence.
Not too much of a fan of the particular high def setup they used, however. It makes everything look garish like a soap opera; Combs in particular should never again work with this camera. The sound mixing is also way below professional, with occasional lines of dialogue blown out and even a line cut in half in between edits. I also could have done without the occasional (failed) attempts at humor - the farm hand guy gets made up like a priest at one point and holds up an ill-fitting robe to his chest and mugs for the camera like he's in a live action Cathy strip, and at one point the demon hits a guy who spins toward camera and makes a cross eyed face like a cartoon (all that's missing are animated stars). With a movie like this, which is quite melodramatic, tossing in some broad humor just gives me the impression of a creative team who weren't all on the same page.
You wouldn't get that impression from the commentary though. Other than a rather amusing anecdote concerning how director Ethan Wiley got a particular performance from star Cameron Daddo, everyone got along fine, and they seem to enjoy discussing the film (the DP also joins about halfway through). Most of their comments are the boring nitty gritty types of things that only die hard fans of the film would find interesting ("We originally had a different house, but there were bulldozers working nonstop next door."), but there are a few good tidbits here and there, and I love that both men laugh after the opening text claiming that it was based on a true story. There's also a 25 minute making of that, like the other days Sutures, is largely just a bunch of random behind the scenes footage, but with one key exception - interviews and footage of their "real exorcist advisor", a guy who looks like a Kinko's clerk and sports a fetching mullet. I was amused, anyway. I also like how whoever edited the thing didn't give two shits about his job, playing music at loud levels over interviews and thus drowning out whatever the subject is saying, not bothering to identify anyone who is talking with a caption or something, and generally just doing a terrible job.
Ultimately, it's not a terrible movie, but it is a messy one. And it's a shame, because with some more careful writing and/or editing (assuming that the crew just didn't run out of money and not shoot some important stuff, which is always a possibility) this could have been one of the better Exorcist ripoffs. The elements are there, they just don't come together in the best way.
What say you?