The Last Exorcism Review
Written by: thegoldensimatar
I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible; but in order to try and review the movie; some of my review might be considered spoilerish.
The Last Exorcism is a disappointment, a muddled mess of a disappointment. But before leaping straight into it, lets set down the story. Cotton Marcus, a preacher in the South, no longer believes in the concept of exorcism after reading about several children dying while the exorcism was preformed. Seeking to prove that exorcism is a shame, Marcus along with a documentary crew goes into the backwoods to ‘exorcise’ a possessed girl. But things are not all what they appear to be…
And there might lie the ultimate issue with Exorcism, the story starts simple enough and the opening act is mostly setup. However while the first two acts are pretty straight forward; the final act is so jumbled and unintelligible with two twists that I’m still trying to decipher what was going on. But, lets backtrack a wee bit more.
The setup for the main meat of the story where we met Cotton along with his family is played decent enough and you see a guy who is conflicted with what is going on in his head. However, when the audience is introduced to Nell Sweetzer (the supposedly possessed girl) the movie acts like a sledgehammer, slamming into the audience the innocence and the naivety of the character. With repeated shots of the crew complimenting Nell and her responding with big doe eyes it was hard to take her seriously. There is a thin line between in-character interaction to calm a nervous character down and simply making her look like a total idiot.
The story itself like I said before plays out fairly straightforward literally until the last ten or so minutes of the film. Up until that point, Cotton has been firm in his belief that Nell isn’t possessed but that a damaging, repressed memory instead is manifesting itself into ‘possession’. However, right at the tail end of the piece where the storylines should be wrapping up; the characters decide to follow up on one more piece of information that leads them to question what just happened at the house and only a few minutes later; we get the finale twist that makes no sense.
The reason for the twist ending making no sense instead of being a shock is quite simple. Rarely anything is explained, simple as that. In the opening of the film the documentary crew interviews several locals while getting directions and several locals mention a devil cult in the area. Then, nothing more is said of it during the whole run of the movie. Nor is much said of the Sweetzer’s relationship to the town in which they live, the history of the town or pretty much anything for the audience to jump off from.
I personally do not mind ambiguity. If executed well it can spark a long and interesting conversation between friends as you dissect every frame of the movie in order to affirm your opinion of what happened. However for good ambiguity, the storyteller must some clear stepping stones for the audience to jump off from in order for them to discover the story as they watch it.
Not providing those clear stepping-stones and forcing the audience to figure out the narrative while they’re watching the film is just poor storytelling. It just seems the story is purposely ambiguous because the writer didn’t fully think the plot through. I felt frustrated while watching Exorcism as I tried to keep track of what was going on while trying to figure out why everything was happening. I’m not asking for everything to be spelled out, but give me something to jump off from so I won’t feel lost or stupid for not understanding what the story is.
The first person cinema verite style the movie employs has probably been exposed within the last few years. It has been used with varying degrees of success but Exorcism falls on the poor side of scale. There are far too many edit and shot choices that seem composed by a director on set than a loose and improved style if this were a real documentary. And with the movie establishing there is only one camera, it only makes things more obvious.
It also falls on the poor side, as it seemed that the cameraman was the worst documentary cameraman ever to exist. I won’t give out any spoilers but there are a few key points (but mostly at the end of the film) where there is something interesting going on however the camera turns away from what should be the audience’s focus and turns on other characters. Nice to see their reaction; but I rather see what they’re seeing.
There’s very little suspense in this film, I never truly felt that I was traveling with these characters through uncharted territory and should be nervous about what is going on. There are several creepy looking shots however without the appropriate buildup they fail to give the audience the chilling reaction they’re suppose to receive.
The exorcism scene that’s been played in the trailers with Nell bent over backwards is surprisingly short and will probably disappoint most people who expected the bulk of the film to take place there. What takes place during the scene is neither shocking nor disturbing in any way. We’ve seen possessed people twist their necks and contort their bodies and harm themselves…there’s nothing new here.
And when it comes to nothing; with a PG13 rating you shouldn’t be expecting a lot of blood and gore. I not as 'No PG13 horror' as a lot of other people, but I do ask that there be suspense and dread to balance out the missing red stuff. There is blood and gore, but not enough to break into R territory. The biggest disappointment is the involvement of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, the masters of makeup effects. And they’re barely used; outside of a dead cat, dead cow, and some blood splattered clothing the KNB guys have nothing interesting to show. Even during the end scene of the film, I think a KNB creation was used but it’s seen for only a few quick seconds and so it’s barely worth mentioning what exactly it was. Even with a PG13; there could have been some good makeup effects, but we don’t get anything.
With the issues of the rest of the film, the cast is pretty solid I thought. The acting is generally pretty good and dismissing overplaying the innocence of Nell during her introduction; the actors play quite well together. But sadly that’s about as much as I can say, there isn’t a performance that stands high above the rest nor is there one that drags the rest of the film down every time they come on screen.
Being this is a ‘found footage’ movie music is slim to nothing. So I’ll address the sound design instead. The sound work is generally pretty good with giving audio cues most of the film when the characters say ‘did you hear that?’ Compared to the story, the sound is much easier to follow.
Needless to say The Last Exorcism disappointed me, the plot became very muddled at the end when the twists negated most of the narrative solely based on a few lines of dialogue at the start of the film that was never followed up on. The style was too structured to be believably cobbled together from found footage. If you do wish to see it, I’d say at a most it’s a rental. This is tgs signing off and with my exit there’s nothing at the end of the credits.