The Last Exorcism begins with a small film crew following Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) around for a documentary. Marcus, the son of a Reverend, has been preaching the Gospel since childhood and making a living spreading the word of God. He has had a crisis of faith, though. A few years ago, his son fell very ill; while he eventually survived, Marcus found himself thanking the doctors instead of God. Since then, he has continued to preach, but it has just been a way to support his family. Increasingly, he finds himself mocking his own theatrics and becoming more cynical in his approach to the church. Marcus came across a newspaper article about a child being accidentally killed during an exorcism. Marcus, himself, had been performing exorcisms since the age of ten, but this death --- which came at the hands of well-meaning people --- hit home for him. As the consummate showman, Marcus knows what goes into a good exorcism (read: smoke and mirrors), and he has decided to bring this film crew along on an exorcism, to show the world that it is just a bunch of crap.
|Smug, cynical bastard|
Marcus selects his next case at random. He tells the camera some of the typical "signs" of exorcisms, sees them in the next letter he reads, and decides to respond to the pleas of the Sweetzer family. The daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell) is allegedly possessed by a demon. Reverend Marcus investigates and finds a sweet and probably overly-innocent girl in Nell, a disturbed brother in Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), and a close-minded fundamentalist in their father, Louis (Louis Herthum). Maybe Nell has a bad case of guilt, or maybe her father or brother have been doing bad things to her. Possession? That seems rather unlikely. Then again, this is a movie...
|Never ask a soulless ginger for directions; they will send you to Hell|
The acting in The Last Exorcism is fine, but it is overshadowed by the film style. This is another one of those hand-held faux documentaries, along the same lines as The Blair Witch Project. There is an awful lot less running in this, so you shouldn't get the same sense of disorientation while watching The Last Exorcism, but it is still a side-effect of the cinematography style. Personally, I am okay with this style, as long as it makes sense within the story. Here, it is the sole camera of a documentary crew, so it works. It does have drawbacks, because it's hard to tell what the hell is going on whenever you actually want to know what's going on, but that's part of the charm of these faux documentaries, I guess. Did director Daniel Stamm bring anything new to the table? Not really.
Here's what I liked. I liked that Cotton Marcus had a pretty believable reason for his loss of faith. I liked the creepy physicality of Nell's possession.
|Above: cynical manipulation of emotions in progress|
There's a lot more that I just plain disliked, though. I didn't like how often the camera focused on the wrong person; it was usually pretty obvious, too. I hated that the image from this poster doesn't show up in the damn movie.
|Maybe the picture is upside down and she's doing a head stand?|
Still, I thought this was one of the better uses of the hand-held camera and it did have a few genuinely unsettling moments. It is far from convincing or completely satisfying, but it isn't boring. My initial reaction to the film was fairly positive, but the more I thought about the plot twists, the more irritated I got. I wouldn't stop someone from watching The Last Exorcism, but I wouldn't recommend it, either. Did I get what I was looking for in this movie? Not exactly. The creepiness was there, just not enough to counter the problems I had.