Day 7: Netflix Roulette – The Secrets of Emily Blair

I guess the downside of supplementing my random movie write-ups with suggestions and classics is that the weaknesses of the movies I end up watching while playing Netflix Roulette are that much more glaring. In other words, expect to read more critical reviews on the days I rely on Netflix.

The problem with The Secrets of Emily Blair is not that it’s necessarily a bad movie… it’s that there is nothing new or original here. It is just an amalgam of every other possession/exorcism movie that came before. It does nothing to elevate the genre. I’m bored even just thinking about how to summarize the plot… and really, I don’t need to… if you’ve seen a movie in this subgenre, you’ve seen this movie. Here are basics, though, in case you’re curious. The titular Emily is a young nurse who gets engaged (during a really weird opening-credits montage), gets possessed by a demon while working at the hospital (the most deserted hospital I’ve ever seen (I’m guessing the filmmakers couldn’t afford extras (but I have no idea where they ended up putting the money they saved))), goes through an exorcism, the end.

Since this is a going to be a rather harsh write-up, I think I’ll start with the negative and work around to the positive (what little there is here). First off, the pacing is odd. The possession occurs about two minutes into the movie (right after a pointless opening scene and the opening-credits montage). Therefore, we really don’t get to know Emily before she’s possessed and this means that it makes it frustratingly difficult to determine when the demon is driving and when it’s actually Emily. This is further confused by a poor choice to intercut scenes with her literally fighting the demon in her head. We are then treated to about an hour of Emily acting weird and impolite. There are almost no scares in the film. In fact, it’s less about scares and more about making the viewer uncomfortable. There are far too many scenes with Emily acting in a non-normative way in a social setting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do this as deftly as the filmmakers did in The Invitation (It makes me sad to talk about The Invitation while writing up this snore-fest). It also seems to miss the point of The Exorcist (again, hate that I need to talk about these two films in the same paragraph). It’s not about uncomfortable social situations (if that’s what you’re looking for, go watch any Rick Gervais series) it should be about playing with taboos (the center of what makes The Exorcist so uncomfortably scary). When we finally do make it to the exorcism, it lasts all of ten minutes. That’s a particular shame, since the highpoint of this movie (and granted the high point is really just the top of the ditch where the film resides) is the climax. The filmmakers (I’m too lazy to look up who this is… I don’t want to give this movie any more of my life) could have played this out and ratcheted up the tension… instead, it just feels rushed and like everyone was bored and ready to go home.

Then there’s the other elements of the film. It fails in nearly every aspect. The casting and acting is subpar. It feels more like a Lifetime movie than an actual film. The writing is melodramatic and then turn abruptly to quips and an almost screwball-level delivery of lines. This is further disjointed by a soundtrack that is overly present and way too ominous in scenes where nothing is happening. The characters are one-dimensional to the point of becoming caricatures. It’s as if the filmmakers were channel-surfing and tried to cram in characters from five different shows. This is perhaps most apparent when we are introduced to the working-class, excommunicated priest with a mouth of a truck driver. I truly have no idea what they were going for with that one.

In the end, I kept coming back to the same questions: why did they make this film? Again, it adds absolutely nothing to the already oversaturated collection of possession/exorcism films. And, honestly, this would be fine if it was able to hit all the elements squarely… but time-after-time it consistently missed the mark.

Hey. Remember when I said I was going to end with what worked in this film… well, after all that I honestly can’t remember anything that warrants talking about.

I’m in need of a palate-cleanser. I’m thinking I’ll do a Classics Revisited tomorrow.

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