Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Blackwater Valley Exorcism (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on October 17, 2006

Directed by Ethan Wiley/written by Ellary Eddy/starring Cameron Daddo, Jeffrey Combs, James Russo, Kristin Erickson, Leslie Fleming-Mitchell/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A country girl is possessed by a demon, while her family deals with personal issues of their own.

I don’t often bother to review straight-to-DVD movies, because I find that people generally know about the rare good ones that come out (mostly through word-of-mouth and the Internet, which amount to the same thing), while the bad ones are mostly ignored. If you keep up with current movies, you pretty much know which ones to check out and which ones to pass by. Let’s face it, a lot of these movies are rented out of cluelessness (having no idea what to rent) or out of desperation (everything good is already out when you get to the store). Sometimes the adventurous types like myself will take a chance on something they’ve never heard of (and seriously, if I’ve never heard of it, it’s pretty obscure), which sometimes pays off. And sometimes it doesn’t.

In this case, they actually sent me a copy, which made me think there must be something to it. It can’t be that bad if they actually want reviews, right? Well… let me put it this way: if Blackwater Valley Exorcism is the only film left on the shelf, you’d be better off going home and taking a nap for 90 minutes. You’ll probably get more out of it, and you won’t be out 4 bucks.

Despite a cover that actually looks pretty cool (albeit a bit too obviously reminiscent of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, of which this is apparently a cheap cash-in), this Exorcism is a dry, dull, talky affair with less action than a typical Scooby-Doo cartoon. Not to mention that the characters are all annoying rednecks with drawls that would embarrass Larry the Cable Guy. I could forgive this if they were at least interesting rednecks, but the lot of them are as blank and boring as a decade-old Garth Brooks album. Trust me, this is 89 excruciating minutes you’re going to want back.

The story, such as it is, revolves around Isabelle (Erickson), who’s apparently a typical down-home teenage country girl. I say “apparently” because we never learn a whole lot about her, nor do we particularly care. She’s been possessed by a demon, which seems to necessitate her being confined to her room for the entire length of the film. I don’t know about you, but if I were a demon from the netherworld of Hell and got the chance to take over the body of a human being, I think I might want to walk around a little bit, hit the town, take in the sights. Then again, Isabelle lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere (we’re never told exactly where “Blackwater Valley” is), so maybe her bedroom is the most interesting place to be in the area.

Her parents, apparently being intellectually stunted, at first believe that Isabelle is just “acting up”. Never mind that her skin has turned purple, she’s hissing and frothing at the mouth like a sick cobra snake, and worst of all, she spends all her time in her negligee (shocking!), they’re convinced she merely needs a little behavioral adjustment. Right. Come on, even rednecks in the middle of nowhere have heard of The Exorcist, haven’t they? It takes their Mexican ranch-hand to finally wise them up to the idea that she may require a bit more than being sent to bed without supper. Because we all know that people from other cultures are more in tune with spiritual matters than whites.

Since Max von Sydow was unavailable (lucky him), the local priest (Daddo) is called in. As luck would have it, it turns out that Father Jacob happens to be the only American priest left to be trained in the rites of exorcism! Isn’t that a coincidence? So he’s not just a redneck exorcist, he’s – wait for it – The Rednexorcist! Jacob also has a history with Isabelle and her family, having once dated her sister Blanche (Fleming-Mitchell) before taking his vows. Isabelle’s parents have their own issues to deal with, which they do in agonizing speeches that seem to take forever and distract from what we’re all here for – the exorcism. As for Isabelle, well, if you’ve been possessed by a demon, molested by your father and fucked your sister’s boyfriend in the shower, you might be an emotionally damaged redneck! Or you might not. We never know, or care.

Does this sound like fun yet? Well, I assure you, it’s not. It’s drab and dreary and about as enjoyable as a prostate exam. Despite appearances, Blackwater is not a horror film – it’s a soap opera with an exorcism thrown in. There’s nothing remotely scary about anything that happens in this film, unless boredom frightens you out of your wits. Director Wiley (the writer of House and writer/director of House II: The Second Story) seems to have no particular clue how to make any of this suspenseful, tense or even marginally intriguing. Every scene is shot flat, like an old Movie of the Week starring Meredith Baxter Birney and a stolen baby. Even when some really fucked-up things are happening on screen, there’s barely a pulse to this entire enterprise. A documentary about grass growing, shot in real time, would look like an IMAX 3-D skydiving film compared to this mess. In all fairness, the production values are decent enough for a low-budget genre film, but that’s about all.

The acting, mainly by a group of unknowns, isn’t even that passable. The flailings and histrionics of Erickson make one nostalgic for the subtlety and nuance of Linda Blair. Isabelle seems more like the victim of a bad allergic reaction (maybe to her bizarrely miscolored makeup job) than someone possessed. Daddo mostly looks like he’s wandered onto the wrong set. The actors who play the family members are all uniformly terrible, to the point where I actually thought they were real rednecks attempting to act. The casting is so clueless that they actually cast veteran B-movie tough guy Russo as a kindly priest. I guess Tom Sizemore wasn’t available?

The one bright spot is the brief appearance by horror icon Combs, who’s surprisingly effective as a good ol’ boy Sheriff (about as far removed from his most famous character, mad scientist Dr. Herbert West from the Re-Animator films, as you can get). It’s too bad that he’s in so little of the movie, and his character serves so little purpose that he could have been cut out completely, because he easily outshines everyone else in the entire cast. Combs isn’t the kind of actor who can pick and choose his roles, I know – but dude, come on, man. Was the paycheck for five minutes of screen time really worth it? There are hardcore fans of his out there who will watch anything just because he’s in it – and they’re going to have to sit through this crap? Trust me, folks, it ain’t worth it. You don’t have to take the hit this time. Do yourself a favor and watch Abominable instead – Combs is in it for about as long, and it’s a lot more fun.

Despite the cover’s claim that the film is “Based on an Actual Event”, there’s no indication of that in the actual movie. We’re not told when, where or if any of this actually happened, so that’s certainly no incentive to see this. Supposedly the exorcism scenes were “Filmed under the supervision of the Traditional Catholic Bishop Jason Spadafore” (that’s a direct quote from both the cover and the film), but in all honesty, the movie’s so damn boring that by the time they finally get to any of that, you really don’t care anymore. These could conceivably be the most realistic exorcism scenes ever filmed, for all I know, but that doesn’t make them any more interesting to watch. And seriously, Father – shame on you for helping them make this trash! Your involvement requires some serious penance. And bring the entire cast and crew along with you.

Have I convinced you that there’s no reason whatsoever to watch Blackwater Valley Exorcism? I seriously hope so, because if I can spare even one person the kind of pain I suffered through, it will be worth it. Just walk on by. There are plenty of more worthy horror films on the video store shelves – Feast, The Woods, Imprint. Rent one of them instead. Trust me on this – there is nothing worth seeing here. Don’t even bother to catch up to it on cable. You will not be happy with yourself afterwards.

* 10/17/06

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