Monday, September 4, 2017

Because Nothing Has Ever Gone Wrong In An Abandoned Mental Asylum

Abandoned mental asylums! Hot young people! Literal face/offs! What more is a straight-to-Netflix horror movie SUPPOSED to have?

Quick Plot: After a pleasantly grimy prologue wherein a nude heroin user shoots herself in the face, we move on to a quick newsreel about the long-shuttered Exeter School for the Feeble Minded, an asylum that did far more harm than good to most of its young charges. 

Some time later, teenage Patrick is helping his priest, Father Conway (played by Stephen Lang so obviously, a suspicious priest) clean and rebuilt the Exeter building into a youth center. Naturally, Peter's awful friends use said employment position to throw the kind of midnight rave that ends up involving more vomit than alcohol. 

As the crowd dwindles to an acceptable number of mostly extremely attractive twentysomething actors playing teenagers, Exeter proves to be as haunted a place as you assume any abandoned mental asylum would be. Token hot blonde Amber decides the best wind-down is to play Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board (heLLO 1990s slumber parties!) with Patrick's kid brother Rory as the test subject, only to unleash the demonic spirit of a wronged dead teenager who once occupied Exeter's most dangerous wing. 

As you do.

I stumbled upon Exeter on a random "You Might Like" scroll on Netflix, and I queued it up with the kind of low expectations one must temper when watching a direct-to-streaming film with a bland title and cover. About twenty minutes into the film, I found myself thinking, "this is a very professionally made top of the lower barrel of horror films." Sure enough, when I saw Marcus Nispel's directing credit, everything made sense.

See, as much as Exeter does little new or surprising with its premise and style, it does all of it quite well. There's nothing overly memorable about the gaggle of attractive twentysomething teenagers, but all the actors give completely acceptable and believable performances (playing twentysomethings playing teenagers). Some of the CGI borders on the ridiculous, but plenty of surprise hits of violence actually shock. 

Nispel has a mixed track record when it comes to horror, ranging from the shockingly better than it had any right to be TCM remake to the worse than it had every right to be Friday the 13th reboot. Perhaps what Exeter demonstrated to me was that there is indeed an art to these kinds of fairly disposable but still highly watchable genre films. 

Consider, if you will, Satanic or Bleed (a movie I had to scroll through months of blogs in order to even remember the title). Both are similarly told low (but not micro) budgeted horror movies about pretty people spending one night battling literal demons. And both lack anything of substance.

Exeter certainly has a few aces up its sleeve. Stephen Lang (who I'm guessing is pals with Nispel after they filmed the gloriously kooky Conan remake) is always going to elevate his material, and the actual abandoned mad house setting does a lot of heavy lifting. The screenplay by Kirsten McCallion (who also has a credit on Texas Chainsaw 3D, a movie I'm in the minority for rather enjoying) is solid enough for what it's trying to do, throwing in some decent twists and leaning on dialogue that mostly sounds appropriate for its teenage characters. It's a far cry from a best of the year candidate, but in the ever crowded market of this exact subgenre, Exeter is certainly one of the better ones you'll find.

High Points
Literal face/off aside, Exeter finds a decent balance in tossing in some quality chuckles throughout its run time, both in its dialogue and clever cuts

Low Points
I mean, I suppose it would have been a more pleasant experience if I actively rooted for the partying twentysomething teenagers

Lessons Learned
Following a guy in the woods is how rapes happen

Backwash will seriously compromise the efficacy of holy water

Never be the feather during a levitation game with a full bladder

The Winning Line
"Wait til I sober up. We'll drop my little brother off and get Denny's."
Who says romance is dead when you can a first date with a line like this?

Hey, I'm not saying Exeter is The Invitation of your current Instant Watch selection, but it's one of the more solid horror movies you've probably never heard of to fall into the Netflix bad poster graveyard. Don't expect your world to change or nightmares to get more interesting, but if you're looking for a simple solid 100 minutes of attractive people being creatively slaughtered by a demon, I think I've found the flick for you. 

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