Two Horror Films from Alliance
The Last Exorcism (January 5/11)
The latest in an increasingly long line of fake horror documentaries, The Last Exorcism follows a faithless preacher (Patrick Fabian's Cotton Marcus) as he and a camera crew head to Baton Rouge to perform a fake exorcism on a girl (Ashley Bell's Nell Sweetzer) supposedly possessed by a vicious demon. There's little doubt that The Last Exorcism ultimately fares a whole lot better in its first half than in its second, as director Daniel Stamm, working from Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland's screenplay, does a superb job of establishing the central character and his rationale for performing the doomed exorcism. The lighthearted nature of the movie's opening half hour - ie Cotton impressively sneaks his grandmother's banana bread recipe into a sermon - paves the way for a comparatively low-key and uneventful midsection that's not quite as enthralling as one might've hoped, yet the less-than-compelling atmosphere is alleviated by a progressive emphasis on images and sequences of a decidedly disturbing variety (ie Nell stands motionless in a dark hallway). Stamm's decision to hold off on divulging whether or not Nell is genuinely possessed or just mentally unbalanced is initially somewhat interesting, although it's finally clear that the delay in revealing the truth dampens the effectiveness of a few key interludes. By the time the over-the-top and unreasonably ludicrous finale rolls around, The Last Exorcism has firmly established itself as a sporadically intriguing yet hopelessly uneven horror effort that isn't quite able to live up to the promise of its above average set-up.
Piranha (January 6/11)
A remake of Joe Dante's eponymous 1978 thriller, Piranha follows an eclectic assortment of characters as they're forced to fend for their lives after the blood-thirsty title creatures launch a vicious attack during spring break. Director Alexandre Aja kicks the film off with a promising yet disappointing sequence in which a hapless fisherman (Richard Dreyfuss) is brutally assaulted by dozens of piranha, with the interlude's effectiveness diminished by an emphasis on laughably inept computer-generated special effects. The underwhelming vibe persists for much of the movie's opening hour, as Aja, working from Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg's screenplay, augments the all-too-familiar storyline with a decidedly less-than-fresh selection of characters - which effectively ensures that Piranha, in its early stages, is simply unable to sustain the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. (This is despite the presence of several scene-stealers within the cast, including Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, and Adam Scott.) It's not until the deadly aquatic creatures launch their assault in earnest that the film finally becomes the fun horror-movie ride that one might've expected (and hoped for), as Aja offers up an impressively brutal final third that injects the proceedings with some much-needed energy and effectively compensates for the lackluster nature of everything preceding it - which ultimately cements Piranha's place as a mildly watchable B-movie effort that could have (and should have) been so much better.