Sunday, September 5, 2010

A movie review: The Last Exorcism (2010)

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Director - Daniel Stamm
87 Min; PG-13
Patrick Fabian - Cotton Marcus
Ashley Bell - Nell
Louis Herthum - Louis

The instinctive thought to compare films is never stronger than when the title of the film itself contains similar words to that of another, such as The Exorcist, and the problem with that is clouded judgment. The original Exorcist film is a brilliant study in slow build up terror, in shot-making, and character development. By the time the little girl's head is twisting you're feeling the need to convert, or at least go to confession a little more often. The Last Exorcism is not a continuation of that film, nor does it claim to be, but you sort of realize it is piggy-backing off the public perception. It is fairly easy for me to write this without clouded judgment, however, because this film does a good enough job of ruining itself without needing comparisons.

We realize very quickly that what we are watching is a documentary. We view the entire film through the lens of the camera from a crew member tasked with documenting what is to be the last exorcism performed by the legendary healer and preacher Cotton Marcus. Marcus is played by Patrick Fabian in a fantastic role. I was captivated from the opening moment by this performance and it is his back we have to ride on throughout, so putting plot points aside, the film holds up well thanks to this one act of brilliance.

We learn from Cotton himself that exorcisms are a sham. Groomed from childhood to be a preacher he spent his life making money off of people who paid him to give them what they want - the peace that the devil is out of their body. He lost his faith years ago but has been doing it for the money ever since. Now, with that news that a young child was killed by some do-it-yourself exorcism performers, he wants to set the record straight and show the world his tricks. Along with a crew of 2 he takes off to the bayou back swamps of Louisiana to meet with Louis, a man who claims his daughter Nell is possessed by a demon. Mysterious things have been happening at the farm, including the brutal butchering of animals at night, and Nell covered in blood with no memory of what has happened.

I really enjoyed the first half of this film. The documentary style set up worked well (note - it is shot in a bit of the shaky hand camera style which has never once bothered me, but if you are the type who will complain about it, just don't see it) and Patrick Fabian is so wonderfully convincing as a preacher who has lost his faith that I almost forgot I was in a horror genre. That changed with the second half of the film, where more thriller/suspense began to take place. A few cliched moments take place and before you know it you can't help asking yourself all the stupid questions like 'Why would they do that?' and 'Why not just call the police?' etc. etc. etc.

The ending of the film has been criticized greatly and there isn't much I can say to refute those criticisms. I don't think it was horrible, but it certainly felt contrived and patched together. At less than 90 minutes the film is actually quite watchable and even enjoyable for the most part, but as an overall movie it just doesn't hold up. I do strongly suggest you watch this on dvd or tv or whatever at some point, or even consider seeing it as a double feature matinee. Not the best movie about exorcism ever made, but clearly not the worst.

** and a half out of 5

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