Hell in a Handbasket: The Atticus Institute Edition
Let me be upfront: it pains me to write this. I really wanted to like this one. Given, it’s a found-footage offering, but sometimes, you get one that knocks it out of the park. I was really hoping this one would.
|Such high hopes…|
For a little while, it was plugging away like gang busters. I liked that it was framed as a documentary, complete with footage shot retro-style to make it feel like the action was actually caught in 1976. I also liked that it wasn’t in-your-face gory. Instead, it relied more so on little tricks to make you get jumpy. Moving objects and camera cuts that show complete chaos within seconds are a good way to get me unsettled – c’mon, I grew up on stuff that thrived on those types of effects. Using stories of unsettled (mock) scientists and family members to build tension? Score. Inhuman sounds coming from an unimposing-looking woman? Sure! Animals freaking out over something unseen? I can get behind that. It reminded me a bit of someone telling an elaborate campfire story with props. You may have guessed, but I was the kid that loved to be scared through oral tradition. I was happy that this was following that suit; it wasn’t relying on blood and guts to be scary.
This movie clocked at an hour and 22 minutes. Once we hit the one-hour mark, everything seemed to go bonkers. It was like watching a pile-up: the first car hits, then about 20 others behind it can’t slam on the brakes in time. When I start shaking my head and going, “How thick can you get?” and then groan, “No, please, don’t go this way…” that means it falls into the Hell in a Handbasket category (though I was sorely tempted to compare this one to an orgasm that doesn’t quite get there). It was like a date gone wrong. Here are my peeves:
#1 – Government conspiracy theory
This plot formula and I don’t get along. At all. I was fine with a documented possession, but once someone brought up the notion of “… and the government wants to weaponize it!” I was ready to check out. Here’s my big gripe with conspiracy theories in film: it’s easy to go from, “Yeah, I can see that” to “Somebody needs some meds” in a very short amount of time. I’m not knocking conspiracy theorists at all – just saying that more often than not, the cinematic translation goes awry and we’re left with a blubbering mess on the floor. Anywho, back to the film at hand. Aside from the plot turn I didn’t like, it seemed really naive in its concept of government control of the supernatural. It’s like no one realized how powerful a demon could be. You would think that someone that was dealing with a confirmed case of demonic possession would have enough brains to tread lightly. The film takes place in 1976; you’d think that someone on that team would have read The Exorcist, or at least have watched the film version (1971 and 1973, respectively). How stupid can you get? Then again, we are talking about the U.S. government….
|Sure, that’ll hold her.|
#2 – The lack of backbone
The scientists had absolutely no backbone whatsoever. Stating that they knew that the real Judith was still in there with the demon, but “there was nothing we could do to help her” felt really low. These people had the ability to differentiate between the supernatural entity and the woman who was being impacted by the possession. It felt like the team was gutless. I really can’t root for someone to win when the well-being of an innocent victim is disregarded. I went from feeling badly for this team to shaking my head and going, “Really, you’re not even going to try?” When I lose all sympathy for you, it’s a bad sign. It means that I’m going to have no problem watching the characters get maimed/killed. I say this without glee; never a good sign from me.
#3 – The plan to transfer the demon into a soldier
Is anyone really so dumb that they think they can control a supernatural force? You think a shock collar is going to subdue something that was born and raised in hell? And yet, that’s exactly where this one went. Using the human test subject of the soldier on the television in a remote location was beyond puzzling (and for that matter, why didn’t the demon just kill everything in the room that way to avoid all the torture?). Pointing out that it hated all things religious felt like grasping because it was never really demonstrated. Cringing when you hear scripture doesn’t convince me – I cringe too, but the last time I checked, I wasn’t a demon. Plus, just what was the thought of transferring the demon into a soldier’s body? Was the thought that it’d be somehow more cooperative? Because a uniform totally works that way.
#4 – The sprint to the end
At one point, I yelled, “Ludicrous speed – GO!” I swear, the last 15 minutes of this film felt like a sprint. Mind you, this is coming from someone who doesn’t run (if I’m running, you’d better run too, because something is most likely chasing me), but even I can tell when something is moving far too quickly to get to the end. In that time frame, we get the introduction to the priest (Priest 101?), the mental breakdown of West, the concept of transferring the possession, and the final resolution/closing statements. That was a lot to cram in, and it wasn’t presented skillfully. And Christ did it feel shoe-horned. I’ve seen incredible short films that accomplished what this full-length feature could not. I shouldn’t be gasping for breath and wondering how I got to the end.
|Look everybody — it’s Doctor Who meets The Exorcist!|
#5 – Predictability, party of two…
Was anyone really surprised when the demon chose to jump to West? I called it when the g-men started talking about transferring possession. Anyone that’s read at least one book dealing with demonology (fiction or otherwise) knows the signs of scouting a new host. I was surprised at how uneducated the whole thing felt, and was really hoping that it wasn’t heading in this direction. I didn’t want to be right. So when West killed the freed Judith and walked off into the sunset, I let loose an exasperated, “Of course.” Mind you, this was after the tense “we gassed her, so it’s totally safe to bodily replace all of her monitors” sequence. That one was decent, but good lord did the film go right back to the predictable path. I don’t always like being right. I was sad that this one went for the cheap, last-minute scare that we’ve come to expect. You know what would have blown my mind? If the entity had suddenly disappeared; if everyone was left looking over their shoulders for 40 years. That strikes me as more terrifying: the thought that at any time, if you let your guard down, the boogeyman will get you. That’s better than what we got.
#6 – Why was the information suddenly declassified?
It was a big secret. No one was supposed to know. Yet why was the information declassified? Did they figure that West must really be dead at this point and was no longer a threat? Were they trying to draw him out? Why on Earth would the government cooperate with a documentary team? If we’re confirming that demonic possession exists, then what other questions will people have? Are they going to tell us aliens are real? What about ghosts? How about the progress on those psychic abilities studies there? THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Hang on, I have to stop my eyes from crossing…
This is a short list, but damned if I couldn’t muster more to say. I found myself shaking my head after a solid first hour of feeling good about this one. I’m more so disappointed than anything else. I really think I would have been far happier had I shut it off at the one-hour mark. I could have envisioned a different ending and pretended that this whole thing hadn’t happened.