Director: Marcus Nispel
Writer: Kirsten McCallion, Marcus Nispel
Producer: Brandt Andersen, Michael Corso, Marcus Nispel, Trent Othick, David Zander
Stars: Kelly Blatz, Brittany Curran, Brett Dier, Gage Golightly, Nick Nicotera, Nick Nordella, Michael Ormsby, Kevin Chapman, Stephen Lang
Teenagers partying in an abandoned asylum become possessed by an evil entity haunting the building.
If there was ever a time when “Exeter,” also known as “The Asylum” and previously known as “Backmask,” could have been considered cutting edge or clever, that time is certainly not now. The formula here is to mix the four D’s of typical teens in a supernatural slasher: drugs, drunkenness, debauchery, and douchebag behavior, stir in demonic possession, set the blender to puree, and spill out a colorless smoothie on the floor of the umpteenth haunted hospital to ever feature in a horror film.
With after hours access to an abandoned asylum undergoing renovations, Patrick and his pals host a boisterous bash where the music is loud and the woo-hooing is louder. You know their types. They have names like Brad and Amber, and the nerdy chub with a sarcastic mouth is referred to by his last name. You know their itinerary, too. Before awakening a paranormal presence, the night is spent farting, making bets to win anal sex, playing strip Russian roulette with an iPhone app, yelling at each other, swearing at each other, insulting each other, and writing things like “I (heart) fat c*ck” on one another while passed out.
As required by horror movie law, this of course is a building haunted by unspeakable crimes that once took place within. Shuttered by authorities for mistreatment of mentally ill children, the church repurposed the premises only for closure to come again after a suspicious fire pointed at a priest covering a controversy over exorcism-like drug addiction treatment.
By the time Patrick’s precocious little brother becomes possessed by the building’s resident evil, the script becomes possessed by an uncontrollable urge to regurgitate every passé cliché in the book. Messages written in blood. Contorted backwards levitation. Abandoned wheelchairs in hallways. Hiding with a hand over the mouth. About the only horse “Exeter” doesn’t beat is it does not present itself as “found footage.” There are shots of someone filming the chaos with a camcorder however, as though “Exeter” is cheekily daring to ask, “aren’t you glad we’re at least not doing this?”
“Exeter” is seemingly cognizant of how trite its tropes are and tries being funny about it. Some winks are made obvious with intentionally absurd one-liners. Others are more subtle snickers such as one bloke protesting a séance by pointing out that no Ouija board story ever ends with someone saying, “I’m really glad we tried that.”
The insurmountable issue “Exeter” has is that every character is so consistently obnoxious that the viewer’s attitude is in no way conditioned for levity or laughter. Virtually everyone fits into the a-hole jock, sassy slut, smart-ass, or stoner stereotypes. Their relentless onslaught of drugs, drugs, sex, drugs, insults, drugs, sex, obscenities, drugs, shouting, drugs, drugs is annoyingly exhausting. Without a virginal Final Girl or a good guy geek in the mix, the audience doesn’t have an anchor into the action.
The film’s eyelid never comes all the way down on those aforementioned winks either, making for a nonplussed reaction regarding just how far the movie is in on its own joke. “Exeter” wants to be the haunted asylum/demonic possession version of “Evil Dead,” but its black comedy isn’t present enough to give it the dark edge it wishes it had. Instead, “Exeter” has to artificially fashion intensity and style through frenetic camerawork and an overbearing musical score.
It’s a shame that energy is misspent making the movie more noisy than scary, because “Exeter” actually comes with a sharp look, decent direction, and solid set design. As frantic as the camera can be, it amplifies action without unduly inducing nausea. Money is clearly spent crafting intricate setups that trigger copious carnage. There is also no shortage of explosive moments featuring surprise gunfire and other sudden shocks. Director Marcus Nispel definitely knows how to make straightforward cinematic suspense with mainstream appeal, which is ironically part of the problem.
Deliberate or not, “Exeter” travels so much well-worn road that its tongue-in-cheek charm is too slight to spark a powerful personality. It’s a tossup regarding which is desperately needed most: more creativity in the meta treatment of rote conventions, or one, just one likable character to break through the endless monotony of drugs, drugs, yelling, drugs, sex, obscenities, insults, drugs, drugs.
20 years earlier, when self-aware style was all the rage and haunted asylum spelunking was not yet an overdone theme, “Exeter” might have been ahead of its time. Now, it’s just behind it.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 40