THE LAST EXORCISM
***1/2 (out of 5)
August 27, 2010
Patrick Fabian as COTTON MARCUS
Ashley Bell as NELL SWEETZER
Iris Bahr as IRIS REISEN
Louis Herthum as LOUIS SWEETZER
Directed by: Daniel Stamm
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Ever since “The Blair Witch Project” redefined cinematic shooting style for the multiplex, we can expect one or two of these found-footage movies in theaters each year. Some have huge budgets, like “Cloverfield.” Others are more moderately priced, like “The Last Exorcism.”
After “The Blair Witch Project,” filmmakers seemed to jump on this bandwagon, but they often forget that this type of style is no different than the high-end, slick beer commercial look of Michael Bay’s movies… it’s a style and nothing more. It can be used effectively, or it can crash and burn.
For the most part, “The Last Exorcism” uses this fake documentary style to its benefit, turning out a creepy, eerie and incredibly atmospheric modern horror movie.
The film follows a preacher named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) who seems to be losing his faith. He’s been performing exorcisms since he was preaching, and that goes back to his childhood. However, in an effort to show some truth in the process, Marcus brings a camera crew along to his latest exorcism to show the fraud of the modern process. He randomly picks an exorcism request and heads out to a run-down farm to help out a teenage girl who appears to be possessed by the Devil. But once he gets involved, he discovers deeper secrets and dangers.
We’ve been through a lot of this before because it seems that practically every major exorcism story involves a preacher with a crisis of faith helping out a possessed girl. Of course, “The Last Exorcism” doesn’t come close to topping the granddaddy of all exorcisms films, “The Exorcist,” but it gave us something more visceral and chilling than other attempts, like the uneven “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”
So just as there’s a lot of familiarity in the plot, there’s enough differences to keep my interest. The film begins with a slow burn… Cotton Marcus explaining how he performs an exorcism and enamors his congregation. This is particularly interesting and entertaining because of the reality of it. This also helps pace the film because we are so accustomed to having movies rip into action within the first five minutes that it’s refreshing to see a movie take its time to build suspense.
When they finally get the exorcism parts, they aren’t overdone… at least for the most part. Through most of the film, the director resists the urge to employ digital trickery and special effects, and we are left watching something that could easily happen on any given farm.
There are some genuinely scary moments, mostly due to the excellent performance by Ashley Bell as the possessed Nell Sweetzer. Where the movie stumbles, though, is when the inevitable elements appear that threaten to rip-off previous films. As awesome as Mercedes McCambridge’s voice was in “The Exorcist,” anything like it would seem stale. The director makes some artistic choices with the demon’s voice, which aren’t totally effective, but he did kind of paint himself in a corner.
This yields a film that’s about 60% brilliant, 25% just okay and 15% meh, with a sprinkle of rip-off.
But on the whole, “The Last Exorcism” is a thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride, and it’s enough to keep you scared not just in the theater but also when you go home and try to go asleep with all the lights out and the house going bump in the night.