Ah, the joys of light satanism through the jig of an Irish horror-comedy.
We begin with a man on VHS speaking directly to the camera from behind a desk. He speaks of ghosts. Exorcisms. Spooky things. The Simpsons and Leonard Nimoy parodied the VHS mystery genre (self-reverentially, I understand) and now Extra Ordinary has a fair shake of the sauce bottle at it.
No longer behind the crackle of a tape, on the side of the road, sisters lay a floral tribute. “Sorry for slaughtering you, daddy,” says our microwave lasagna sad girl heroine, Rose Dooley.
Through the magic of voicemails (remember those?) we learn more about Rose. She may be a driving instructor now, but she was once a medium of sorts. A veritable sidekick to her deceased ghost busting father, but something went awry. He was slaughtered and now she is afraid of spooks. She still sees them everywhere; branches of trees wave to her, and people on the street adorably turn into floating spectres with a thread count. She even has a magpie familiar.
I like the shot on location feel. Real people’s houses, with excellent kitchen tiles that are so dated they’re back in style.
The love interest is introduced. Martin Martin’s daughter is tired of her father being batted about by her mother’s aggressive ghost. She convinces him to seek Rose’s help. He does so under the guise of taking a driving lesson, though clearly conflicted about what he’s tasking her with. Is he ready to exorcise the ghost of his deceased wife?
Our villains are introduced. Christian Winter, a one-hit-wonder living in an Irish castle for the tax break. He lives with his wife. She serves as a reminder that as an Australian when I hear an authentic Australian accent in the wild it hits like nails down a chalkboard.
A schoolgirl floats mid-air above a pentagram. We learn she is the virgin sacrifice needed to strike a deal with the Devil so that Christian can write another charting hit to match Cosmic Woman. Which fucking slaps:
And I sang la la, la la
Cosmic Woman la la la
You are so beautiful la la la
Cosmic Woman la la la
My Cosmic Womaaaaan
Mrs Winters causes the virgin sacrifice to wake from her trance (likely from her occa screeching) causing the sacrificial lamb to explode into complete gore. Another virgin must be procured. Out comes the silly Willy Stick, which points Christian to Martin Martin’s daughter. A spell is cast by Christian. You know it’s demonic because his eyes roll back in his head.
Martin Martin’s daughter is now the floating sacrifice. He calls on Rose. She flips out, because last time she dealt with anything spooky, her dad was slaughtered (remember?)
Rose discerns something about a blood moon and needing the ectoplasm of six exorcised ghosts. I can barely make it out over her thirst for Martin Martin (who continues to be haunted by his ghostly wife).
The exorcisms commence, sourcing hauntings from Rose’s back-catalogue of voicemails. Their approach is simple; Martin Martin is to be possessed, Rose exorcises and then Martin Martin vomits ectoplasm.
The hauntings are bizarre; a man infuriates his wife by posthumously putting out the recycling, haunted cheese, etc. We do pause the montage for Rose to have doubts and regale us with the tale of slaughtering her father during an exorcism gone wrong. The usual things you pause a montage of exorcisms for.
The final ghost exorcised is the ghost of Mrs Martin Martin. She inhabits Martin Martin’s body, and honestly, I could have done without her goading of Rose over her pining for Martin Martin. Let your husband live. Let our sad microwave lasagna heroine find her packed-lunch love.
All the while, our villains follow suit, watching from their vehicle. Mrs Winters, in the driving seat, repeatedly asks “why don’t we just kill the bitch?” in a manner that if pasted into google translate would come back with this word salad: fair dinkum, mate let’s end the sheila.
With the help of the magpie familiar the group (which now has two extra hangers-on; Rose’s heavily pregnant sister who is on a date with some milquetoast from the local County Council) follow the villains to the site of the intended sacrifice.
Mrs Winters eventually meets her (timely) demise. This is not before she is terribly rude to a food deliveryman over special fried rice. Christian kills the bitch, slicing her throat. She never even got to eat her kung pao.
Christian opens a portal into an unidentified layer of hell. In goes the virgin for the demons to have their salacious way with her. We are in full Irish-Catholic territory, which is ultimately the undoing of Extra Ordinary.
Are you ready for the crass twists you absolutely saw coming? The magpie was Rose’s slaughtered dad all along! Martin Martin’s daughter is spat back out of the bowels of hell. GASP! What do you mean a teenage girl is not a virgin? What’s that, you say? Our sad microwave lasagna heroine has an intact hymen? And no way, Martin Martin has the tool to save her?
Sigh. I’ll always have Cosmic Woman to console me.
The Whyalla Civic Library had the audacity to charge me, an 11 year old, sixty dollars (that’s 1990s, Australian Dollars by the way. Pre-war big bucks) for an oft-borrowed copy of Jenny Randles and Peter A. Hough’s seminal work of complete non-fiction The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained12.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rallying over the cost, I pored over that tome with the vigor and inquisitiveness of a child who doesn’t understand double exposure photography.
So needless to say, I think the cost was justified. The book contained unarguable truisms: spontaneous combustions, crop circles and Yorkshire Faeries all evidenced in great detail within its covers. No, there was no fault with the book, I’d gladly have spent one hundred dollars of my parents’ money on it. I wasn’t paying for it because I wanted to keep it, I was paying for it because it was no longer there. Possessed by evil spirits? Abducted by aliens? Blazed to a cinder… spontaneously? Or was the book never corporeal at all but a grim spectre of a book in the first place, returning to its translucent plane of existence?
My point is, like the protagonist in Extra Ordinary, I too am accustomed to spooky occurrences. Not only that but the exact kind of program that her father made I am a sucker for. It’s not like those modern ghost hunting shows but more like Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of or the Arthur C. Clarke one where he’s like ‘I live on this Edenic beach in Sri Lanka but aren’t raining frogs a weird occurrence?’ Michelle’s step-dad had that show on DVD when we first got together and I ate it up.
I am pre-disposed to enjoying this kind of film and story, its roots buried deep in my pre-teen psyche. I did enjoy the film but thought the main story had far more to offer than the diversions into the villain’s plan (yes, yes Michelle - Cosmic Woman aside). You see, this could be (and is, somewhat) a touching, mediation of coping with loss and death with some broad comedy moments but every time the Winter couple are on screen it becomes, simply, a broad comedy.
For some that isn’t a criticism, people like silly comedies but for the most part they rub me up the wrong way, especially if the ratio isn’t right for me. All of that stuff is subjective, what I would say is fairly objective is how disappointing the last act of the film is (to be fair its really the last few minutes of the last act): overblown with effects, overstuffed with clichés and a slew of unfortunately, predictable outcomes.
This is common with high-concept comedies; the movie builds up a lot of good-will by having a unique take on a concept or an entirely fresh idea and then cannot fathom an outcome where the pay-off is bigger than anything you’ve ever seen. I trace this back to Ghostbusters (1984) but I’m pretty sure it can be found in earlier examples too, that just feels like a watershed. However, Ghostbusters, a movie I have no overwhelming fondness for, pulls this off quite well but modern comedies just can’t seem to balance properly.
I will also add, that as a kid the book and shows I’ve mentioned (The Encyclopaedia and World of Strange Powers, etc) were genuinely frightening. Like, ‘read it from under the covers’/‘watch it from behind the couch’ frightening. Perhaps its unfair to judge a movie against a standard it isn’t setting itself but I really thought the tone the opening set was just right; a little spooky, a little sad, a little funny.
One superficial thing that I loved. The VHS production was excellent. Exactly the right aesthetic: sound, music and everything. I’m curious if they actually shot it on video. It seems like Hollywood can’t even get this right. For every Extra Ordinary level success there are thirty poorly photoshopped family portraits of movie stars together that look like they aren’t even in the same species. This seems so insignificant to some people but there are those of us out there that lose track of the plot for a few minutes upon seeing such a travesty. That isn’t the best thing about the movie but it was notable for me from a nit-picking perspective, it also tells you a lot about how much the filmmakers cared for this film and how much they were willing to pay attention to the details.
This movie was fun, I really wanted to like it more. It has an idiosyncratic energy that I was really in lockstep with for most of the film. Unfortunately, the merits of the end of the movie much like my immortal copy of The Encyclopaedia of the Unexplained, disappeared before my eyes.