Friday, May 25, 2018

Movie Review: Cargo

Cargo *** / *****
Written by: Yolanda Ramke.
Starring: Martin Freeman (Andy), Anthony Hayes (Vic), Susie Porter (Kay), Caren Pistorius (Lorraine), Kris McQuade (Etta), Natasha Wanganeen (Josie), Bruce R. Carter (Willie), Simone Landers (Thoomi), David Gulpilil (Daku).
 
It is not easy to do something new with the zombie genre – which in the wake of the huge hit that is The Walking Dead – has become perhaps the most overplayed of all horror genres in recent years. Really, no one has done anything all that original since George A. Romero eventually invented the genre as we know with Night of the Living Dead (1968) and perfected it with Dawn of the Dead (1979). But many filmmakers have followed Romero’s lead in using the genre to comment on larger social issues and humanity in general. Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s Cargo is an outback zombie film that, like most of the others, follows Romero’s playbook. For the most part though, what it lacks in originality, it makes up for with emotion. Yes, you can argue that using a baby in peril for the whole film is a cheap ploy – but it’s one that works.
 
The story in a nutshell is that Andy (Martin Freeman) and Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby daughter Rosie are cruising down a river on a houseboat, just trying to get away from whatever has happened on land – which is a zombie outbreak. When they come across a down yacht, first Andy and then later Kay go on board in search of supplies. Andy makes it out okay – Kay isn’t so lucky. We learn that in this world, if you’re infected you have 48 hours before you turn (but if you’re infected, and die, you turn right away). To try and save his wife’s life the family gets off the boat and heads out in a truck. Things go wrong – of course – and Kay ends up dead, and Andy infected. He now has 48 hours to find someone to take care of Rosie, or doom her to an early death.
 
The zombies in Cargo are the classic Romero zombies – slow and stupid, and for the most part, they seem not to gather in large groups – you can dodge them unless you’re dumb or unlucky. The movie doesn’t really try to scare you that much – there are no cheap scare moments (hardly any scare moments at all really) – and oddly, the filmmakers prefer to keep their action in the daytime, not the night. In Vic (Anthony Hayes) Cargo finds a classic Romero like human villain – a man who is using this outbreak as an excuse to become a vile, violent monster. The film’s other major character is Thoomi – a young indigenous girl trying to keep her family together. In its portrait of indigenous culture, Cargo has found its most original element – while the rest of society falls apart, because enough of them remember the “old ways” – they seem to have things more together than anyone else – more able to hold things together largely because they have a better sense of community. You could argue that its view is a little simple, perhaps even condescending – but I think the film’s heart is in the right place. I also quite liked the way the film portrayed the almost silent, passive racism of Freeman’s character – he doesn’t see himself as racist, yet he also does everything he can to get Rosie to a white family, even when it becomes clear what his best option is. The film doesn’t hit you over the head with it – it’s just something that Freeman’s character doesn’t really consider
 
In the lead role, Martin Freeman is quite good – he has a lot of time where he is by himself with the baby, and he is more than capable of carrying the film with his quiet presence. The rest of the performances are fine, but Freeman really does carry the film. Freeman has been quietly doing great work for a while now – he was great in season 1 of Fargo for example – and here, he’s doing some of his best film work.
 
While I appreciate the directors avoiding the kind of horror movie clichés of many zombie movies – avoiding too much blood and gore, and jump scares. The problem is they don’t really replace that with much else. They do a good job with the sun burnt outback, yet that also hurts them with building atmosphere. There are a few good scenes – particularly one inside a tunnel – but for the most part, the film doesn’t work as well as it could as horror movie. I liked how they had bigger issues on their mind – but the best horror movies work as horror and on the larger issues – not just one of them.
 
Overall, Cargo is a decent zombie film – one that doesn’t reinvent the genre, but does a few things I had not seen in the same way before in the genre. As a debut feature, it’s good. Now it’s time for Ramke and Howling to up the ante for their next film.

Movie Review: The Party

The Party *** / *****
Directed by: Sally Potter.
Written by: Sally Potter.
Starring: Timothy Spall (Bill), Kristin Scott Thomas (Janet), Patricia Clarkson (April), Bruno Ganz (Gottfried), Cherry Jones (Martha), Emily Mortimer (Jinny), Cillian Murphy (Tom). 
 
Director Sally Potter has made some wildly ambitious films in her career – the centuries spanning Orlando with Tilda Swinton as a young nobleman who stays young for centuries for example, or the romance Yes, a modern day film with dialogue in iambic pentameter for example. On that level, The Party feels like Potter taking it easy – tossing off a fun, yet inconsequential bauble of a film, that runs barely 70 minutes, set in one location, and basically lets its talented cast just have fun. That’s disappointing because of what we know Potter is capable of – yet the film remains fun and engaging throughout, so you get over that disappointment. Yes, Potter can do more – but in terms of its limited ambition, The Party works just fine.
 
In the film, Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) has just been elected to serve as the shadow Minister of Health in Britain – and is holding a party for her best friends to celebrate. We know something is off about her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall) from the beginning – because he just sits in a chair, drinking, playing music and staring off into space. But Janet is too busy to notice – not only has her career gone the way she wants, but she’s also texting with someone she is obviously having an affair with. Gradually though, the guests start arriving. Her best friend April (Patricia Clarkson), who doesn’t believe in politics and is an incurable cynic – but a supportive one – arrives with her boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), whose every line is basically new age mumbo gumbo. Then there is Martha (Cherry Jones), an old friend of Bill’s and a fellow professor, and her younger wife Jinny (Emily Mortimer) – who just learned her IVF procedure was successful, and she’ll be having triplets. Finally there is Tom (Cillian Murphy), who is supposed to be with his wife Marianne – an underling of Janet’s, and a former student of Bill’s – but she has been delayed. He shows up in an expensive suit, with a lot of cocaine and a gun – he’s obviously made about something, but it takes a while to figure out what.
 
From there, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and secrets and lies come spilling out one after another. The film is basically a one act play with a comic tone, even as heavy as some of the things the film deals with are, the whole thing is pitched as a farce. The film is shot in black and white – I am a sucker for black and white in general, and it works here. The whole cast throws themselves into their roles with gusto, and basically just goes for it. The performances are wildly different – Murphy is going over the top, Jones is going more understated, Ganz’s calmness is disturbing, Clarkson’s every line is designed to get a laugh, and Thomas is harried. Spall is good as a man who is essentially resigned to his fate. Mortimer probably has the most underwritten role, but she’s good enough to make her interesting anyway.
 
They all work together well, and the film maintains a fun tone from beginning to end and floats along effortlessly. You can certainly argue that with this much talent on display, the result should be better that just a fun, tossed off bauble. But as far as fun, tossed off baubles go, you can do a lot worse than The Party.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Movie Review: Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2 *** ½ / *****
Directed by: David Leitch.
Written by: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds based on characacters created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds (Wade / Deadpool), Morena Baccarin (Vanessa), T.J. Miller (Weasel), Josh Brolin (Nathan Summers / Cable), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead), Zazie Beetz (Neena Thurman/Domino), Julian Dennison (Russell Collins/Firefist), Karan Soni (Dopinder), Leslie Uggams (Blind Al), Shioli Kutsuna (Yukio), Rob Delaney (Peter), Jack Kesy (Black Tom Cassidy), Eddie Marsan (Headmaster), Bill Skarsgård (Zeitgeist), Terry Crews (Bedlam), Lewis Tan (Shatterstar), Stefan Kapicic (Colossus - voice), Sean Gislingham (Sammy).
 
I’m honestly not sure if you could describe the Deadpool movies as good – but they sure do feel somewhat refreshing, even necessary, in the current superhero obsessed Hollywood landscape. The DC Universe is currently in shambles – a lumbering giant of self-seriousness and overstuffed movies that are just lucky everyone loved Wonder Woman so much or it would a colossal misfire. The Marvel movies have generally been quite good – but even when they bring in talented filmmakers like Taika Waititi or Ryan Coogler to add some degree of freshness to the proceedings, they still feel very much the same – very much a part of something bigger and more serious than perhaps it should be. The Deadpool films then act as a kind of counterweight, as it mocks everything the other superhero films take so seriously. This isn’t good for things such as character or narrative in the two Deadpool films we have seen so far, but it does make them a hell of a lot of fun – especially since Ryan Reynolds is so suited for the role, and the movie so gleefully embraces the violence, profanity and pretty much total nihilism at its core. In 2016 when the original came out, I really did wonder if we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the comic book movie era (it will end, every era does) – because if audiences were so ready to laugh along at something that mocked everything the studios were offering them, then perhaps it had peaked, and we were just waiting for the fall. That clearly didn’t happen – but I cannot help but wonder how the Deadpool film will play after the era does end, and audiences see it outside of an era when we soaked in this superhero stuff constantly. But for now, I’m glad they’re around.
 
In many ways, you could describe Deadpool 2 as being just like Deadpool – but with a bigger budget. Deadpool was a risky move for Fox, so they didn’t spend what they typically would on an X-Men film in an effort to hedge their bets. Because that was a huge hit, they poured more money into the sequel – hired a proven action director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) when the original left over “creative differences”. And you can tell. The action in this movie is cleaner than the original, better staged but still juiced for maximum carnage. You kind of have to take your hat off to the Deadpool movies because in the real world, if there were superheroes, a hell of a lot of people would die every time they fight. This film doesn’t avoid that fact, nor does it have its hero mourn their loss – it just gleefully cackles as Deadpool shoots people in the head, or chops off their arms. Even a huge action sequence in the middle of the film – which features the newly formed X-Force has been pumped for maximum cruelty and laughs.
 
The basic story involves Deadpool being depressed (I won’t spoil why, although it’s in the first few scenes) but determining he needs to care about something more than himself. So he decides that what he’s going to do is saved Russell aka Firefist (Julian Dennison), a teenage mutant with fire hands who is stuck in basically the mutant version of one of those gay conversion camps. Russell and Deadpool are carted off to a prison for mutants – and that’s when they first meet Cable (Josh Brolin) a time travelling part man part robot from the future hell-bent on killing Russell for something he will do decades from now.
 
Brolin is the big new addition to the cast – and to be fair to him, he is well cast here, playing off his own image, and he gives a least some humanity to what could very well be a Terminator clone. The best new addition though is clearly Zazie Beetz as Domino – whose mutant power is extreme luck, which Deadpool questions, but really shouldn’t. Out of all the new additions in this movie, she’s really the only one I would be sad never to see again – she’s absolute blast.
 
This remains Ryan Reynolds show though – and he basically carries the whole thing. He also co-wrote the script, so he knows precisely how to play to his own strengths, which he does so shamelessly throughout, while constantly pointing out how shamelessly he is doing it. The movie breaks the fourth whale more often than it keeps it intact, and basically pokes you in the ribs over and over again for two hours with how clever it is, while mocking itself for not being as clever as it thinks it is. This could become insufferable (see Family Guy) – but for now, it works for this character, poking fun of this genre, at this particular time. The shelf life for these movies may be short, but for now, they are pure fun.

Movie Review: Show Dogs

Show Dogs * ½ / *****
Directed by: Raja Gosnell.
Written by: Max Botkin and Marc Hyman.
Starring: Will Arnett (Frank), Ludacris (Max - voice), Stanley Tucci (Philippe -voice), Natasha Lyonne (Mattie), Jordin Sparks (Daisy – voice), Alan Cumming (Dante – voice), RuPaul (Persephone), Shaquille O'Neal (Karma - voice), Gabriel Iglesias (Sprinkles - voice), Omar Chaparro (Señor Gabriel), Andy Beckwith (Berne).
 
Show Dogs is probably precisely the movie you think it will be when you hear it’s about a talking NYPD dog who goes undercover at a dog show to uncover smugglers, and who has to team up with a FBI agent played by Will Arnett who at first cannot stand him. The bar for ambition on these films is low, and this one basically plays like the writers half saw Miss Congeniality on cable and said what if that but with a dog, and churned out a screenplay that afternoon. You know the studio didn’t think this would make a lot of money – they certainly didn’t spend much on advertising the thing – but they really don’t need to. This is the type of movie that will live for years on Netflix and cable reruns on channels devoted to kids, who will watch the movie and laugh at the talking dogs and fart jokes. There is a reason why there was more than one Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie (there were 3!) and why they have churned out three Pup Star movies in the last three years. The answer is simple – kids love talking dog movies.
 
If you’re not a parent, you probably don’t know about Pup Star – and you are probably in no way ever going to watch Show Dogs – and to be fair to you, there is no reason for you to do either of those things. Show Dogs is a lame comedy that is oddly fixated on the police dogs private parts. Needless to say, my 6 and 4 year olds quite enjoyed it. And good for them, I suppose. I continue to take them to these movies, even knowing how bad they will be, in the hope that they will get into the habit of going to the movies, and love it – so this institution I love survives. And also because it gives us something to do on a Monday of a long weekend when everything else is closed and we’ve already been to the park, and they keep complaining about how bored they are.
 
Will Arnett plays the FBI agent who has to team up with Max, a NYPD Rottweiler with the voice of Ludacris, which of course Arnett cannot understand, but all the other dogs do. Give Arnett credit for not entirely sleepwalking through the movie, and agreeing to show his face on camera – which the host of celebrity voices for the dogs - including Stanley Tucci as an aging, effeminate former champion, Jordin Sparks as Max’s love interest, Alan Cumming as a somehow even more effeminate than Tucci current champion, RuPaul as an dog with a weird costume or Gabriel Iglesias as a hyper active dog named Sprinkles do not do. You know you’re in trouble when the best vocal work in the film may well be Shaquille O’Neal as a philosophy spouting dog. Arnett even agreeably appears in a version of the Dirty Dancing sequence with Max that my kids found hilarious, despite never having seen Dirty Dancing. Natasha Lyonne also shows up as Arnett’s love interest, and that’s strange after years of seeing her in Orange is the New Black, now all put together and prim and proper – it’s just strange.
 
Listen, everyone involved with Show Dogs knew what they were getting into when they made it – and if you watch the film, you know as well. There’s a reason it’s coming out now – because we’re more than a month since the last animated kids movie, and about a month before the next one, Incredibles 2, so they slipped it in here to try and make a few bucks, before the film lives on Netflix and cable forever. The film is what it is – and while that is very (very) bad, I do have a tough time getting angry about it. I mean, what really did I expect when I went to see it?

Movie Review: Paterno

Paterno *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Barry Levinson.
Written by: Debora Cahn and John C. Richards.
Starring: Al Pacino (Joe Paterno), Riley Keough (Sara Ganim), Kathy Baker (Sue Paterno), Greg Grunberg (Scott Paterno), Annie Parisse (Mary Kay Paterno), Ben Cook (Aaron Fisher), Jim Johnson (Jerry Sandusky), Peter Jacobson (David Newhouse), Larry Mitchell (Jay Paterno), Darren Goldstein (Mike McQueary), Kristen Bush (Dawn Fisher), Sean Cullen (Dan McGinn), Steve Coulter (Tim Curley), Tom Kemp (Graham Spanier), William Hill (Tom Bradley), Michael Mastro (Guido D'Elia), Josh Mowrey (Ron Vanderlinden).
 
Al Pacino gives another of his great late career performances as disgraced former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. The film is basically a study in denial, as it documents a few months in the life of Paterno following the indictment of his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on multiple charges of child molestation. It was a scandal that rocked Penn State, and as it unfolded, and more and more information came out, and it became clear that so many – including Paterno himself – knew something, and did nothing, it just became bigger. Paterno dedicated his life to coaching at Penn State – he spent decades there, refusing other job offers for more money, and was basically treated as a God on campus. People didn’t just see him as a great football coach, but as a great educator, a great humanitarian, and a great man. But how could Paterno not do more than he did with the information he had?
 
As a movie, Paterno would probably work best as part of a double bill with Amir Bar-Lev’s great documentary Happy Valley (2014), was chronicled the Sandusky scandal, but more really the fallout on campus afterwards – where it seemed more people were upset with how Paterno was treated than they were about the Sandusky scandal. You could also read some of the great, Pulitzer Prize winning work done by Sara Ganim, the Patriot-News reporter, who broke the story months before the indictments – which was ignored – but kept on pushing, and pursuing more and more leads and survivors as the story finally did break nationally. Ganim is played, in a very good performance here by Riley Keough – who is quickly becoming a favorite actress of mine with her work in films like American Honey, It Comes at Night and Logan Lucky. Either of those will give you a bigger, more complete picture of what happened.
 
What Paterno does is take you behind the closed door of the Paterno home during that time. When it comes out that Paterno had known about at least one allegation a decade before – because another assistant coach reported to Paterno that he had seen Sandusky raping a boy in the shower, and Paterno did nothing except report it to his superiors – the next day, as to not spoil their weekend – the media attention on Paterno heated up. His weekly press conference was cancelled, a weak statement followed, and soon the legend had announced his retirement at the end of the season – and after that, was fired outright. Since Paterno died of cancer a few months later, he never really did publicly address anything.
 
What the film does then is show Paterno as he it’s behind closed doors, with his family, still actively refusing to engage with what is happening outside – and trying to convince everyone that it had nothing to do with him. He’s there to coach football – and he has a game to prepare for. He doesn’t read the indictments that come down, doesn’t want to talk about them, pushes aside any suggestion that perhaps he could have and should have, done more. He reported it to his superiors, what else was he supposed to do? This is all just a distraction from the important thing – football. Can’t he just get back to doing that?
 
Pacino is great in the film, especially when he is quiet. He has done a few of these HBO biopics movies in the last few years – he won an Emmy for playing Jack Kevorkian for Paterno director Barry Levinson in You Don’t Know Jack, and like in that film, he has an opportunity to go big here, but instead goes quieter – and it’s more effective (he didn’t have that chance in David Mamet’s Phil Spector, the other HBO project – which is perhaps why it’s clearly the weakest). Pacino doesn’t really try and do a Paterno impression here – but instead goes for something deeper – something that was perhaps missing in Paterno that allowed him to compartmentalize everything.
 
What’s most impressive about the movie is how it basically shows Paterno is pain from beginning to end – and yet doesn’t encourage or engender any sympathy for the man. Everything he goes through in the film he brings on himself. The movie made the choice to essentially be an interior study of Paterno, and thus, not give the full dimension of what happened – and that has its positives and negatives – but for Pacino, this is a triumph.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Movie Review: Disgraced

Disgraced (2017) **** / *****
Directed by: Pat Kondelis.
 
Disgraced is a documentary about the 2003 scandal that rocked Baylor University in Waco, Texas – where one basketball player murdered another, and the fallout that followed that discovery, when it turned out head Coach Dave Bliss wasn’t following the rules. What’s odd is that this really should be a scandal of greater proportions – something talked about as much as Penn State and Joe Paterno, but it really isn’t. It’s likely that many don’t know anything about the story at all. In part, this is because as the movie tells us at the beginning, it’s something the people of Waco don’t talk about – at all. They don’t like to. But it’s a fascinating and troubling documentary, mainly because it gives Bliss so much rope to hang himself with.
 
When Bliss was hired as head coach of Baylor’s basketball team, he already had a successful NCAA coaching career under his belt – but he was taking over a team that wasn’t very good. To help make the team better, he recruited Patrick Dennehy to follow Baylor from New Mexico to Baylor, where he was promised a scholarship and playing time. He also recruited other players – including Carlton Dotson, who would become Dennehy’s friend and roommate – and eventually, his killer – and Harvey Thomas, who according to some harassed and threatened Dennehy and Dotson alongside his cousin, Larry Johnson – so much that the pair of friends went out and purchased guns. It was when they were practicing with those guns out in the desert that Dotson eventually killed Dennehy. A motive has never been established – Dotson has mental health issues – some psychiatrists at first deemed him unfit to stand trial – but his side of the story has never really been established. In a surprise move, five days before trial, he changed his plea to guilty in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence. It was a move that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, since even the prosecution admits that he could have argued self-defense and had a decent change or winning.
 
If that were the whole story, it would be a sad and tragic one. We’ve never seen a story is sports where one teammate murders another one – certainly not at the level of the NCAA in basketball. But that’s all it would be – another tragedy of young men killing each other for reasons we cannot comprehend. But the scandal goes deeper than that. That is because after the murder, the police naturally started digging around. Apparently, Dennehy wasn’t really at Baylor on a scholarship. So who paid his tuition? Who bought him his Chevy Tahoe?
 
As it all threatens to come crashing down, Bliss started scrambling – and wanted to get everyone in line, to lie to the police and the administration to cover his ass. This didn’t sit well with assistant coach Abar Rouse, who started recording his meetings with Bliss. What he gets on those tapes is shocking. Bliss essentially wants to tell everyone that was a drug dealer – and that’s how he paid for his own tuition. Because of those tapes (and bank records) that lie didn’t stick. Since then, Bliss has tried to sell his story of one of regret and redemption – that he did bad things, but learned from them and moved on. Then, in the documentary’s most shocking moment, when he thinks the camera is off, he goes on a rant essentially blaming Dennehy for his own death – and bringing up all the crap he had previously tried to paint Dennehy with. Its clear Bliss is the same piece of shit he was when this all went down.
 
This scandal really should be bigger than it was – it should have rocked the NCAA system more than it did. What’s odd is that other NCAA coaches sided with Bliss, not Rose – essentially saying that what Rouse did by recording Bliss was disloyal, and they would never have an assistant like that. 10 years later, Bliss found another coaching job (he couldn’t before that, because he was suspended). Rouse never did.
 
There are a few reasons it didn’t blow up bigger. For one, Baylor and the NCAA have reasons for wanting to keep this out of the spotlight – and they succeeded. For another, almost no one involved wants to talk about. The list of people involved in the scandal, the murder, the cover-up, etc. who refused to be interviews for the film is long. We still don’t know the truth about what happened in that desert and why – or what led to it. What we do know, as the documentary makes clear, is just what kind of person Dave Bliss is.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Classic Movie Review: The Exorcist III (1990)

The Exorcist III (1990) 
Directed by: William Peter Blatty.
Written by: William Peter Blatty based on his novel.
Starring: George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Jason Miller (Patient X), Nicol Williamson (Father Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr. Temple), Nancy Fish (Nurse Allerton), George DiCenzo (Stedman), Don Gordon (Ryan), Lee Richardson (University President), Grand L. Bush (Sergeant Atkins), Mary Jackson (Mrs. Clelia), Viveca Lindfors (Nurse X), Ken Lerner (Dr. Freedman), Tracy Thorne (Nurse Keating), Barbara Baxley (Shirley), Zohra Lampert (Mary Kinderman), Harry Carey Jr. (Father Kanavan), Sherrie Wills (Julie Kinderman), Edward Lynch (Patient A), Clifford David (Dr. Bruno). 
 
I’m not quite sure why everyone decided in 1990 that it was time to make long awaited sequels to 1970s classics. This was the year Coppola made The Godfather Part III, Jack Nicholson made his Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes and Bogdanovich made his Last Picture Show follow-up Texasville. All of those films have their charms, but none of them come close to matching their famous predecessors. The same can be said of The Exorcist III – in which the original writer, William Peter Blatty ignored 1976’s The Exorcist II, and just adapted his own follow-up novel for the film. The studio mandated some reshoots and an exorcism finale, wondering (perhaps not incorrectly) how they could have an Exoricst film without an Exorcism. They clearly wanted something that Blatty didn’t want to provide – which was more of the same from the franchise that had some name brand recognition. It’s too bad, because so much The Exorcist III really is quite good, which is why it’s reputation has grown over the years.
 
The film stars George C. Scott, stepping in for the late Lee J. Cobb as Kinderman – the veteran detective from the first film. He’s still a cop 15 years after the events of the original – and he’s still haunted by the death of his friend Father Karras (Jason Miller). Currently, his best friend is another Priest – Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) – and the pair of them bicker with and needle each other as they discuss faith and God, and other questions big and small (like the magazines Dyer loves). Recently, a string of murders have happened, that look like they may have a supernatural element – that, or they could be the work of The Gemini Killer – although he’s been dead for 15 years as well. As Kinderman digs, he discovers with friend Karras is perhaps not dead afterall – there is a mysterious Patient X (played by Miller) who has been locked away in a psyche ward all these years. He has been catatonic most of that time, but has just started talking again – and claims to be The Gemini Killer.
 
The Exorcist III is a horror movie to be sure – but it has more in common with something like The Silence of the Lambs (which would come out the year after) than the original Exorcist film. This really is more of a horror tinged police procedural, with Kinderman having to put together the pieces of the puzzle. The films second hour has long stretches of Kinderman talking with The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) in the psyche ward – scenes that allow Dourif to do what he does best, and go over-the-top with his insanity. Scott, never the most subtle of actors himself, is capable of matching Dourif when need be, but wisely doesn’t. He’s playing Kinderman as more tired and world weary than anything.
 
As a director Blatty only made two film – his previous one, The Ninth Configuration (1980) is even better than this (if my memory is accurate – it has been a while since I saw it, so a revisit is necessary). That’s a shame, because he was a fine director. Sure, the writer part of him overtakes the film for long stretches – the early talking scenes between Kinderman and Dyer, and the later ones between Kinderman and the killer – but he’s also able to stage some incredible scenes. A scare where Kinderman walks through the hospital, and we can see someone crawling on the roof above him would normally be the visual highlight of a film like this. In this case, it isn’t, because of a masterful long take looking down a hospital corridor, where Blatty takes his time allowing everything to play out, resulting in a masterful, scary moment.
 
What Blatty didn’t want to do is repeat what Friedkin did in the original film – why try and outdo a film that many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made? Instead, Blatty wanted to do something different, and when he gets his way, The Exoricst III is its own beast – a fine film in its own right, and not just because of the original. The studio demanded too much change from Blatty, so the result is a compromise – but a fascinating one.