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The Last Exorcism (2010)

  Tags: Andrew Gurland, Ashley Bell, Caleb Jones, cotton, Daniel Stamm, Eli Roth, exorcism, exorcist, Huck Botko, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Louisiana Media Productions, minister, Patrick Fabian, Shanna Forrestall, Strike Entertainment, Tony Bentley

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Daniel Stamm
87 minutes
Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Ashley Bell, Tony Bentley, Caleb Jones, Shanna Forrestall

Alright, so if you had a childhood like mine that consisted of getting your pudgy little fingers on every horror film that you could then A.) you totally rock, and B.) you’re probably hard pressed to find a movie that can legitimately frighten you.  For me, the only things that can get my hairs standing on edge are really well crafted haunting and possession films, which as you can guess are few and far between.  I was hoping that The Last Exorcism would fit the bill, but as the credits began to roll I found myself with epically conflicted feelings.

Utilizing the now popular “found footage” shooting style, Last Exorcism tells the story of Cotton Marcus, a preacher who doesn’t believe in demons, but has made a living out of performing staged exorcisms.  In an attempt to expose demonic possession for the hoax that it really is, he invites a film crew to document his final exorcism that was chosen at random from his pile of letters asking for help.  Soon after arriving in Bumbfuck, Louisiana, it’s evident that Cotton may have finally stumbled upon the real deal.

The most surprising thing about The Last Exorcism is how much humor is actually in it.  Sure it gets serious by the end, but the first half is almost lighthearted as Cotton interviews some of the locals about the town’s supernatural occurrences and as he explains exactly how he stages his “shows”.  I can see some complaining about this set up dragging on too long, but I believe it’s crucial in getting to know our main character.     Played flawlessly by Patrick Fabian, Cotton exudes a charismatic likeability, making for one hell of an intriguing film subject.

Similarly to last year's Paranormal Activity, the effects, if any, are kept to a bare minimum.  A few of the most chilling moments come straight from Ashley Bell’s natural performance as the possessed Nell.  From her dead eyed stare to her body’s contorted movements, there is not a single use of CGI which only adds to the realistic, documentary style that the filmmakers are going for.  Bell, a relative newcomer, easily holds her own against her more seasoned costars in a role that is sure to be a career maker, similarly to Jennifer Carpenter’s turn as Emily Rose.

The Last Exorcism really hits its possessed stride around the midpoint and doesn’t let up.  But sadly, most of the film’s strongest moments have already been seen in the numerous clips, trailers, and TV spots released over the past few months.  Lionsgate was so dead set on marketing the film as a non-stop scare fest that they wasted all of their best money shots in an unfortunate case of promotional premature ejaculation.  In most cases the marketing of a film would have zero effect on how I reviewed the final product, but when it hinders the effectiveness of a film like this did it’s impossible to ignore.  Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen a lot of this films promotions, continue to avoid them at all costs.

The other weak spot looming over The Last Exorcism is that the found footage approach just feels so tired now.  There are definitely scenes where it works, in particular when Nell herself took the camera on a lil field trip to the barn, but overall I guess I’m just over it.  Producer Eli Roth has been making the interview rounds saying how the movie is not at all what you’re expecting and is nothing like the rest of the handheld films that have populated the genre.  Well, I got news for you Eli, The Last Exorcism turned out exactly how I expected, despite my hopes for something stronger.  But he's right, it is different in its approach...because it kind of cheats.  An ominous musical score is layed over the "footage" as if the filmmakers didn't fully trust the style.  It's the most cinematic of these kinds of movies, which makes me wonder why it even needed to be filmed this way.

Starting off intelligent and enthralling, Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland’s script turned paint by numbers predictable as it stumbled through the third act.  Anyone familiar with the satanic panic films of yesteryear will probably get as much of a kick out of the last five minutes as I did, but it’s the final shot that almost ruins it.  Halfway through the film I had a vivid strong suspicion of what this final shot would be, based on the events of the film and the fact that it was docu style, and low and behold it matched almost identically.  I went back and forth for a while after the film was over on how much I actually liked it.  But the more I thought about it, the more underwhelmed I was.

With its simplistic approach to storytelling and effects-less chills, The Last Exorcism was brimming with potential.  With that said, the sometimes stale shooting style and eventual predictability hindered what could have been a solid, original horror film.  Still, it’s worth a watch for the flawless performances and the parts that do work…that haven’t been ruined by the sloppy marketing.

Posted on August 27, 2010 - 3:53pm | Johnny D