Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Secrets of Emily Blair (2016)

Full disclosure: I still have no idea what those secrets are supposed to be.

Just shortly before nurse Emily Blair (Ellen Hollman) and her loving boyfriend William Regan (Will Kemp) – characters named Blair and Regan in a possession movie, oh yes – are eloping, a homeless patient blows a demon (in its contemporary standard form of digital black fog) down her throat.

Soon mild-mannered Emily “accidentally” cuts off parts of a little boy’s finger, holds mumbling discussions with someone or something invisible, tries to seduce a guy on her own elopement party, pukes on the table of William’s family priest Father Avital (Colm Meaney), and gets rather rowdier during sex than William appreciates (please insert your own bit about the inherent conservatism of possession horror and how it leads to really boring ideas of transgression here). The next step is of course getting bad teeth and starting on a little murder spree.

Father Avital, alas, isn’t a big believer in demons, so it takes some time before his thoughts turn from schizophrenia (as if such a thing exists in a horror movie) to possession. Trouble is, Avital’s not much of an exorcist, and writer Patricia Harrington – or whoever is responsible for that particular bit of the script - clearly doesn’t care how the Catholic Church operates, so the good Father seeks the help of a former rogue exorcist (Adrian Paul) for whose excommunication he is responsible. Hilarity, I mean excitement, ensues.

Oh dear, Joseph P. Genier’s exorcism horror film isn’t very good at all. It’s not only that Harrington’s script as it is filmed adds exactly nothing at all to one of the most tired horror sub-genres we have. The acting’s not terribly convincing either – Meaney at least vigorously chews the scenery but the rest of the ensemble is bland even when possessed and attacked by demons –, the production design suggests a bad TV movie (the church ruin set at the end actually made me feel sorry for the film for I have seen more convincing ones in microbudget films shot in backyards and empty warehouses), and Genier’s direction is lacking personality and drive.

Fortunately, The Secrets of Emily Blair might be a bad film, but it isn’t a boring one. There is quite a bit that’s amusing here, too bad the film isn’t meant to be a comedy. To wit: apparently, one of the main powers of demons is to drain telephone batteries; when you are possessed by a demon, you are trapped in a tiny forest set full of digital swirly bits that just happen to hide a bit of the cheapness of the costume of the demon who is punching you in the face repeatedly, which is one of the more wrong-headed attempts at visualising a spiritual struggle I’ve encountered; demons are easier exorcised when the possessed’s fiancée helps the praying priest out with a litany of treacly lovey-dovey crap that would be too embarrassing for most romcoms, suggesting that demons are allergic to kitsch. In general, Emily’s moments of social awkwardness caused by her possession are comedy gold.
Staying in the same ballpark of crappiness, the murders are all staged as awkwardly as possible, shot in ways that are bound to make the make-up effects look as bad as possible, but are generally worth a guffaw.

So hey, The Secrets of Emily Blair is badly made nonsense, but at least it’s entertaining badly made nonsense.

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