The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism | Thriller | rated PG-13 (A, L, V) | starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell | 1:27 mins

A born and raised pentecostal preacher, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who had a crisis of faith years ago seeks to get out of the practice of performing exorcisms, but not before one last performance before a 2-person documentary crew with the intent on exposing what a scam it all is. When they arrive at the run-down Louisiana farmhouse of a family who fears their daughter is posessed, things don’t appear to be what they seemed and soon Cotton and his crew find themselves faced with a greater evil then they every imagined.

The very things that drew me to The Last Exorcism will probably be the same things that repel others. I’ve put the “Thriller” label on the movie here which will more accurately convey the human drama woven into this tale then the average commercial campaign does. Coming to the film expecting straight horror, jumps, gore or the typical exorcism movie will leave one feeling let down. Embracing it’s ambiguity and atmospheric pleasures is the way to go. Typically I spend this type of movie waiting through the set-up to get to the horror, but Exorcism could have been just as entertaining without the horror elements at all. As a story of a preacher who fakes exorcisms and a look at how he does it. Faith and fact. Religion and psychology. God and the devil.

Coming into the over-crowded increasingly tiresome marketplace of the single camera pseudo-documentary subgenre created by The Blair Witch Project, Exorcism doesn’t exactly take this style to a new level – suggesting that the inventive tactics used by Cloverfield to push where you can tell a story within these confines may have been as far as it can go. When Exorcism goes into full-on horror mode in the third act, it’s tricks are all ones we’ve seen. Running down a dark hallway using the camera light to see. Looking into darkness for a protracted amount of time expecting something to jump out at you any minute. All tricks deflated of any suspense over the years.

Still Exorcism rises toward the top of the shaky camera pseudo-documentary movies because, well for one thing it won’t give you motion sickness, and for another it has a meatier story than we’ve come to tolerate from movies like this. This style is not as popular as it is cheap. It delivers the studios a high dividend on return: a cheap production, with the reasonable assumption that enough people will find it scary to justify the investment. But Exorcism finds a use for it. Where movies like Blair Witch, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead all required the viewers to suspend the question as to why the guy with the camera keeps filming instead of dropping it and running, Exorcism‘s story sets up a purposeful documentary with a 2-person crew intent on capturing the action. Cotton’s reasons for producing the documentary, established early, are compelling and reasonable enough to drive the movie.

Even better, it uses the style to effectively immerse us in the environment. The documentary section feels authentic and when we travel to the backwood run down swamps of Louisiana we feel like we’re in the middle of the journey. It’s a more effective immersive tactic than 3D glasses.

At the center of it, Patrick Fabian carries the film. His personality gives the movie it’s identity and he effectively displays the double-edged sword of charisma. His charisma makes him a compelling listen and gives him a moral ambiguity for the audience to judge when he uses that charisma to preach messages that he doesn’t entirely believe and mocks his flock for believing behind their back. He half-heartedly approaches the exorcism of Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), a ready-made set-up for redemption the movie doesn’t give to us easily. Louis Hertham is also good as Nell’s father, tragically torn by staunch faith into believing his daughter is possessed and turned into a potential killer at the suggestion that the only way to free her is death.  But what really makes the movie compelling is a third act turn that threatens to take the situation from supernatural to real world psychological horror. Exorcism does a rock solid job of keeping us not knowing who to trust.

The Last Exorcism is ultimately an exorcism movie for people who don’t like exorcism movies. It instead strives for ambiguity and makes for a fun puzzle to solve without being frustratingly random or hazy. The ending is straight-up outrageous. An exclamation point followed by a question mark sending us out questioning what we just saw. Not a great horror movie, but a good movie nonetheless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post