The third scary film I watched this October was Exeter. I saw it on Netflix. It stars no one you’ve heard of and its selling point (according to the poster) is the horror cred of the producers and director. The premise: There’s this institution for fucked-up children and over the years a crap-ton of kids died inside it/because of it. It was finally shut down in the 1970s (that is an important point to remember) because of the abuses that went on inside. In the present day a Catholic priest, Father somebody, wants to renovate the place and has hired a strapping young man to help him. Well, his friends and friends of friends hear that there’s this big creepy place and that sounds like a great place for a big party. Does capital e Evil enjoy being woken up by screaming teens and their shitty music? It decidedly does not.
Meanwhile, a cliche squad of after-partiers linger after the crowds break up and –of course– get trapped inside the institute. Let me introduce you to the crew. Dudebro 1 and Dudebro 2. Both handsome lugs with dark hair. One is Father Somebody’s protege and the other is rather dumb and sexist (it’s the only way to tell them apart). Then we have Fat One with Glasses, The Stoner, The Tagalong Kid Brother, and then oh yes two girls: The Blonde Slut and The Brunette Gothy Smart Girl. They each behave exactly as you would predict because you’ve seen these characters over and over your entire life.
Well. Look, if you want something mindless, dark, and gory, please by all means smoke a bowl and enjoy. It’s got some of the grossest shit I have ever seen on film (and I just watched a Chinese woman chop up and cook human fetuses!) The cinematography is good, the special effects are good. The whole thing LOOKS okay, if you don’t think about it too much. I understand many people don’t care if a horror movie “makes sense” or if people behave in a believable way. I mean, we’re talking about demonic possession which I’d wager most people in Western society anyway don’t encounter in their day-to-day lives. And with films we always expect to suspend disbelief in some ways like the often-cited “Go toward the scary sound instead of running the fuck away” trope. These characters and this story though…I could never lose myself in the film because I was repeatedly pulled out of it by things that make no sense. And I don’t mean an evil spirit being passed from teenager to teenager like a particularly virulent case of chlamydia. I mean…Dudebro 1 and Goth Girl find video cassettes of the patients/inmates. Which they watch on a VCR. Which wasn’t invented until after the institute closed. In a place without electricity. By the by, the institute didn’t lock the brain trust in from the get-go. It’s only after two deaths and one possession that that happens. Why don’t they run the fuck away? Because they’ve been doing drugs. And just in case you’re thinking…no one calls for help? I bet the capital e Evil made all their cellphones break. Or they all ran out of charge. NOPE. Every member of the Derp Squad has a iPhone. Fat Boy has a damn tablet! They look up how to perform an excorcism and watch videos but no one calls the cops, receives a “Where the fuck are you” text from Mom, or even posts anything to social media. And that, in 2015, is where I draw the line. If you’re going to give your characters phones and access to the internet then that is the film world you have chosen and you must abide by the rules of that world.
For all the horror experience on the film making roster here, you’d think the pacing would be better. There are very simple ways to create and sustain fear. You build it slowly, you have a surprise scare here, a creeping horror there, then a moment of humor or character development to let the audience catch their breath and then WHAM! you get ’em again. You do this over and over and you use the musical score to aid you in this. In Exeter…well it just doesn’t work. There’s just a relentless parade of violence and after twenty “attacks” they no longer surprised or scared me. It was boring. And I rarely ever notice a movie score so if I know something was off, it had to be pretty bad.
Having said all that, there is a twist that came completely as a surprise to me and it was a good one. Don’t ponder it at all though because the math doesn’t add up in any way without invoking time travel or worm holes. So…just enjoy it and don’t think about it.
Bottom line, if you like gore/special makeup effects and don’t want to think too hard, kick back with a cocktail or five and enjoy. Otherwise, skip Exeter. I give it half an Afghan of Doom for the gore and the twist.
When Dudebro gets out the scythe…