The Last Exorcism Review
Written by: DeadByDawn
Contrary to what cult icon Eli Roth's name on the production credits might suggest, The Last Exorcism, birthed by director Daniel Stamm, and writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, is a rather mild-mannered demon.
So far, many of the film’s reviewers have described it sort of how I would describe drunk sex: It starts off fun with lots of energy, becomes a bit nonsensical, then ends on a rather disappointing note. (Not that I’ve had drunk sex. I neither drink nor sex.)
The Last Exorcism begins by introducing us to the film's "hero," Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a likable but somewhat sleazy preacher who seems more interested in selling faith than subscribing to it. Cotton has performed exorcisms before, but he has never seen a demon; in fact, he doesn’t believe in them. Instead, he compares himself with a doctor, who provides a service to people. He heals them by ridding them of a bad thought: the thought that they are possessed.
When he receives a letter from Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) claiming that his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), is possessed, Cotton sees this as just another routine service -- i.e. NOT a real exorcism. He heads out to the Sweetzer farm with a cameraman and researcher Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) in tow to document his work. What the group encounters on that farm calls Cotton’s bad-thought theory into question.
What The Last Exorcism presents to us isn’t new, and sadly the way it’s presented isn’t new either. Some of the scenes felt like they were taken right out of The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson, 2005), The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999) and Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007), to name a few possible influences. I’m all about giving shout-outs to great movies that influence you, but I think if you’re going to work with someone else’s idea, you should try to improve upon it, and, aside from maaaayyyybe one scene in The Last Exorcism, I didn’t feel like it really improved on anything.
The filmmakers chose to present the story of Nell’s exorcism in the popular documentary style that Hollywood seems to be using more and more. Possibly to boost the realistic sense of the movie, many of the characters share first names with the actors who played them (a call-back to cinema verite?). Despite their efforts to make the film seem realistic, the filmmakers undermined themselves over and over again by using a non-diegetic score (sometimes the sounds weren’t actually part of the narrative — the sounds were clearly added in postproduction for atmosphere) and — and I found this particularly annoying — leaving a black space between scenes when the camera was “turned off.”
*Whiney film nerd tangent* I think it would have been more effective and realistic if the film had employed jump cuts. This would have given viewers the sense that they were actually watching real footage that had been edited together I think. (Not to mention, how jarring would it be if one minute you’re in a well-lit room with the crew and the next minute you’re in a dark room with people screaming?) To be sure, the filmmakers did use jump cuts a couple times, I just think they could have used them more effectively and more often.
A couple of good things I can say about the film is that I thought it created a solid creepy atmosphere, and that all of the actors were good. Nell’s brother, Caleb (played by Caleb Landry Jones), wins the best supporting creepy actor award in my books. And I thought that Ashley Bell was quite good at winning the audience over as Nell. I’m just noting the people who were creepy, but really, I thought everyone was good.
As far as special effects go, I think their use was sparse but good enough. There were a couple decent slashing scenes and some decent body contortions. If I had to pinpoint one thing the film did best, I’d have to say atmosphere. Again with the disappointing drunk sex metaphor — you know sometimes when you’re having sex and you’re close to um… peaking (sadly the thesaurus is severely lacking in synonyms for the word "cum"), but you just can’t seem to get there? (Okay this might be more of a thing girls can relate to than guys…) Anyway, I kind of felt like that’s how The Last Exorcism was for me, except with scares. I kept thinking I was about to be scared, only to be let down.
In short, I left the film with the equivalent of horror movie blue balls.
Sadly, the most exciting thing about The Last Exorcism is its posters.
If you must watch it (and I'm not completely trying to dissuade you from doing so), I'd suggest renting it.