NOVEMBER 20, 2012
Usually you can tell from the box art or the synopsis that a movie is going to be found footage, but apart from the clunky tagline ("A Demonic Exorcism Releases The Evil Inside") that hints at Last Exorcism and Devil Inside, there wasn't anything that tipped me off to Back From Hell (originally Ex Inferis) true nature as yet another goddamn POV movie. I was actually intrigued by its Evil Dead meets religious mumbo jumbo plot, but as soon as I saw people talking to a very shaky camera, my excitement dipped.
Now, I actually quite like the format when it's done right, but with the recent successes, we're seeing ripoffs at a rate unseen since the slasher boom of the early 80s, and with that many wannabes, you know that a lot of them aren't going to be very good. And it's exacerbated with this particular "genre" (it's not a genre, it's a stylistic choice, but that's a whole other discussion), because it requires a lot of planning and thought to do right. You can probably dumb luck your way into a decent slasher as long as the killer looks cool and you come up with a couple of decent death scenes, but not with the POV format. In order to work, these movies HAVE to think things through, starting with the most important "rule" - remembering that your camera is being held by a character.
And that's where writer/director Leonardo Araneo fails miserably, as the guy holding the camera often seems less engaged in the proceedings than ACTUAL cameramen in traditionally shot movies. Not only does he barely speak, but when major things go down, he has no reaction at all! It goes beyond the usual "Why is he still filming?" issue - this guy is borderline sociopathic, standing there and perfectly framing up things like friends attacking one another, or even performing impromptu C-sections. Honestly, you could watch several five minute segments of the movie and not even realize it was supposed to be from a character's point of view. He also films everything for no reason, including leaving it filming while they sleep before anything major has happened, and entire dinner scenes. Does he not need to eat? I also liked when he realizes all hope is lost but still thinks to fix the camera and film himself and another survivor wandering off into the background, just in case something interesting happens for the benefit of whoever might watch the tape later, I guess?
He also doesn't light things very well. There's a sort of unwritten rule that we accept in these things during night shoots, that the only reason they're filming is to keep the light on so they can see as they stumble around in the dark, but the other characters have flashlights that are BETTER than whatever light he has on his camera! But even during daytime interiors the movie is severely underlit; I suspect some of it might be a poor transfer, but that doesn't explain ALL of the movie's murkiness.
Another crippling flaw in this movie is that it's too damn talky. Not only is that a problem for any movie of this nature, as it requires our guy (again!) to forget he's a human being, sitting there silently filming his friends have heart to heart conversations or personal moments, but this is an Italian production with everyone speaking English. Thus, their accents can be a bit impenetrable at times (some even seem to be speaking phonetically), so make sure to keep the subtitle button handy. Not that it's much of a help, since the guy doing it was clearly doing a rush job, so you get things like "You sit, fuck" instead of "You sick fuck!" and "Mr. Paranoid" becomes "Mr. Paralite".
But the final, "OK this movie just simply isn't worth my time" blow is the fact that it doesn't make a lick of sense, as Araneo apparently thought having a bunch of underdeveloped ideas would be preferable to sticking to one that had probably been done better in five other found footage movies anyway. In a way I can appreciate it - this IS an Italian horror film, after all, and thus there's a sort of charm to see it ripping off American counterparts while eschewing things like coherence, but the POV thing keeps it from ever being fun - these movies, good or bad, have to be grounded in something we can familiarize ourselves with in order to work. That's why the best ones tend to be focused on situations we can identify with - being lost in the woods, hearing strange sounds in our new house, etc. That or they focus on interesting characters actually making a documentary, like Last Exorcism. This movie just never gives us an entry point; it begins awkwardly and is paced like the journey of a 12 year old that just stole a stick shift car.
Araneo also doesn't know when to quit, tossing in renegade angels, cosmic cubes (!), quarantined areas, etc into his storyline, as if an excess of STUFF would bring the movie to life. No, it just makes the experience more frustrating, because some of these ideas sound pretty great (like the possibility that it's an angel, not a demon, that has possessed one of the group), but they're ruined by the bad photography, brain-dead approach to the aesthetic, blank slate characters, and a general feeling of indifference. They can't even get the horror scenes right; the guy that's possessed sounds like Adam Sandler doing his devil voice from Dirty Work, and there are no major FX either, leaving the film with the curious stigma of seeming phony by keeping it real.
Oh, and it's 6 minutes longer than the back of the DVD promises. Salt in the wound, movie...
What say you?