The Last Exorcism
Twister: Satanic Edition
There have been possession/exorcism movies before and after but none come close to the sheer terror and quality of The Exorcist. It is the alpha and the omega of possession horror. Many have tried to emulate it and many have failed. It's almost unfair to compare other movies to The Exorcist. It is a movie unto itself. All that being said, it's hard not to do so because the themes that run through that movie are identical to all others. The heavy religious imagery, religious commentary, the questioning of faith, and some scary violence. Those things could describe countless possession movies. Because of this, newer movies are required to come up with new ideas, new twists, and new gimmicks to differentiate themselves from the standard bearer of exorcisms in horror. One of those gimmicks is my old “favorite,” found footage.
The Last Exorcism is a 2010 found footage-style exorcism movie starring Patrick Fabian (Bad Ass, Providence) as Reverend Cotton Marcus. Cotton is followed be a small documentary crew to expose exorcism as a fraud. He has performed exorcisms in the past, but does not believe in demons or possessed individuals. Along with the crew, Cotton travels to a small town in Louisiana after receiving a letter asking for his help in performing an exorcism. The letter is written by Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum, True Blood, JAG) claiming that his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell, The Day, United States Of Tara) is possessed. After meeting with Nell, Cotton tells her father that she is possessed by a demon called Abalam. Cotton uses a myriad of tricks and props to make it appear that he is casting a demon out of Nell, to the satisfaction of her father. That night, Nell randomly appears in Marcus's hotel room in a disheveled state. They take her to a hospital to get checked out and everything comes back normal. Cotton visits the Sweetzer's former pastor, Joseph Manley (Tony Bentley, Cadillac Records, From The Rough), who explains that he hasn't been in contact with the family in a few years. After his wife's death, Louis became ultra religious and pulled his family out of the church and homeschooled his children. Nell inexplicably cuts her brother's face and Louis chains her to her bed. Cotton and the film crew free her, but her strange actions continue. A doctor from the hospital leaves a message, stating that Nell is in fact pregnant. Convinced that Louis raped her, Cotton and the crew wait for him to come home. Tempers flare and Nell attacks Cotton. He agrees to perform another exorcism, but things are not what they same. Is Nell really possessed or is there something else going on and how is Pastor Manley involved?
As with every other exorcism movie, religion does play a large part of the movie, but not in the typical way. The Last Exorcism puts a twist on the “loss of faith” theme. The movie doesn't focus on Cotton's return to faith and allows the movie to progress. The movie doesn't feel too preachy and doesn't rely heavily on Christian imagery. That was quite a relief as other movies tend to bash the audience over the head with crosses and Jesuses (Jesusi?). By not being as straight-forward as other exorcism movies, The Last Exorcism is free to craft better characters without having to force cliches and stereotypes. Both Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell put in good performances, making both of their characters likable and believable. This likability is important because it makes the audience care about what is going on. The story itself is on the fairly mundane side with a few twists and turns that didn't really work for me. Things felt rushed and convenient with the express purpose of getting to the “shocking” ending with about 3 minutes left in the film. The movie lacked the proper amount of foreshadowing to be believable and felt too random. The final few seconds were straight out of the Blair Witch Project and I hated that movie.
The main gimmick of this movie is the use of found footage. As I've said in other reviews, I'm not really a fan of this style. It does allow for quicker scares, but it really isn't necessary for a movie like The Last Exorcism. Beyond the fast jolts, there really aren't many scary things about the film. I can't stand the shakiness of the camera and the phony focusing that occurs. Personally, I think a few quick scares are not a good tradeoff for a good story. There is a bit violence, though most is directed at a cat, which I didn't care for. The movie is rated PG-13 which blows my mind. Why would you handcuff your movie and take out the necessary and desired violence from the horror crowd? Do you really want a 14 year old to see a movie talking about rape and incest and demonic possession? By going soft on the violence and language, the movie becomes watered-down and generic. It doesn't have to be a splatterfest, but a few more scenes of violence and some real-life dialogue would have improved the movie immensely.
All the kids are doing the "Possessed" at the dance clubs
The Last Exorcism has a few good things going for it, but it tends to blend in with all the other exorcism movies. The story is fairly mediocre and the twists are too convenient and not very surprising. The ending feels very rushed and a lack of foreshadowing made it appear to come out of nowhere. The found footage may appeal to some, but I found it unnecessary and occasionally nauseating. The acting in the movie is good and there is solid character development. I truly think the PG-13 rating held the movie back and made it too bland for your average horror fan. While it's not a terrible movie, there were just too many thing in it that I didn't like.