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Since The Exorcist debuted in 1973, no film about the devil has made such a lasting impression. The Exorcism of Emily Rose was a demure attempt, telling of the fabled possession in flashbacks. It was an effort, but not a memorable one. The Last Exorcism does not outdo The Exorcist nor does it fail at grasping attention. It sits comfortably on the fence for the majority of the film, bringing its own flair and folly to the subject.
Since the popular trend of Japanese horror and its American remakes, effects such as spider-crawling, bone-breaking, and shadowy figures moving in a mixture of slow motion and fast motion have become known and groaned over by scary movie fans. It was my assumption that The Last Exorcism would contain these worn out tools of the horror trade. I was pleasantly surprised when only one of the clichés was employed, and effectively.
The documentary style film follows the fictional preacher Cotton Marcus on what he hopes will expose the evil that is the exorcism business. He is a man who has lost his faith and intends to make sport of God and religion by taking a camera crew with him to his latest requested exorcism in the backwoods of Louisiana. Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) has beckoned him to help his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) who has been killing animals on the farm. His son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) is a rebellious teen who wants protect his sister even to the point of violence.
With barely a $2 million production budget, the look and style of the film is well done. It was earlier referred to as being a “Blair Witch” style picture which induced images of low-budget shaky cameras. It is instead professionally made, in a glossy first person point of view more along the lines of Cloverfield. The camera is delightfully steady, and the lighting was superb — there was no use of murky night vision. Unfortunately, the camera is often too distant or cuts away from the most volatile scenes, hence the PG-13 rating.
The marketing of the film was a bit deceptive though that isn’t a drawback. You will go in expecting one movie and realize quickly you are watching something entirely different. Mainly, the writers were thoughtful in designing the characters and their introductions. Filming the story from the point of view of a skeptical preacher who’s lost his faith is original and valuable to the experience. You’re not pulling for this smarmy con artist as he goes on his journey of faith as much as you are the archetypal angelic Nell.
In what is becoming an annoying trend begun with No Country for Old Men and recently seen in Inception, the director gives an ending that is the equivalent of a middle finger. The difference in Inception is the ending sparked endless debate whereas The Last Exorcism seemed somehow unworthy of discussion. The ending was like the art project that got destroyed on the ride to school and all you have is five minutes before first period to put the blasted thing together and give your presentation. The writers should have known better.
Horror movies must be judged for their ability to induce terror. The Last Exorcism offers only one chilling moment, and a cheap one at that. However, the little film redeems itself through strong acting by the entire cast and by bringing its own point of view rather than attempting to remake earlier movies. If not for the dreadful ending, this film could’ve been a revival but the exhausted finale makes it little more than a smart yet unsatisfying forgettable tale.
The Last Exorcism
Directed by Daniel Stamm
Written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, and Louis Herthum