What a pleasant surprise — two horror films I wasn’t really looking forward to but walked out of the theater satisfied after watching them. The first being PIRANHA 3D, the second being Daniel Stamm’s THE LAST EXORCISM. Even though we haven’t had a good straight-up exorcism movie in awhile — THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE felt more like an episode of LAW AND ORDER than a horror movie — the previews for this one just weren’t selling me. Seemed like another PG-13 horror film full of quick-edits and lame jump scares aimed at teens. Boy, was I wrong. THE LAST EXORCISM delivers some decent chills with a story a bit more layered than just small-town-preacher-meets-potentially-demon-possessed-young-girl. It’s also a story with some fairly heavy themes, such as morality, the belief in a God, and blind faith. Check out the trailer after the break, even though it really doesn’t accurately reflect the movie (and gives away a bit too much in the process) and then my heavily edited, spoiler-free thoughts.
Cotton Marcus has lost his faith sometime during his long career as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, if he ever had it to begin with. Groomed by his father from a young age to stand behind the pulpit and sell salvation to the unwashed masses, Cotton had grown up to be one the best in the business. But after the birth of his son and the death of an autistic boy thought to be possessed, Cotton has hired some filmmakers to follow him to a remote farm so that he can expose exorcisms as a farce. The Devil is supposedly defiling the flesh of a young girl there, and her father has requested that Cotton cast the thing out of her. Cotton will allow the film crew to document the tricks behind his exorcisms and the real reason why they work against people who think they’re afflicted with a demon from Hell in the hopes of saving the lives of mentally challenged children at the hands of people with good intentions. But as you have already gathered from the trailers, Cotton and crew come across a case that the power of suggestion alone cannot resolve.
That’s the setup and what makes THE LAST EXORCISM such a surprise. Initially, the film is less a demon-oriented horror film and more a look into Cotton’s work as a snake-oil salesman. It makes Cotton one of the more interesting characters I’ve seen in theaters this year. His conscience is clear taking money from the simple folk, as he’s just giving them exactly what they paid for. Besides, his family’s gotta eat, right? No matter what your beliefs are regarding demons and possession, the film will constantly have you wondering exactly what the hell is going on at that farm. Is it an honest-to-God case of possession or a just tragic case of a young girl suffering a mental break? You witness just enough antics, and gather just enough clues, that you just aren’t 100 percent sure.
During the farmhouse shenanigans where the battle between faith and medicine rages, Stamm and crew create some memorable scenes some won’t likely forget. Actress Ashley Bell plays the innocent, sheltered Nell so convincingly that it helps the effectiveness of the devious, sinister Nell we witness later on. Stamm also shows he has a handle on the less-is-more approach on creating some chilling imagery. Some memorable scenes included Nell picking up the camera and filming the filmmakers as they sleep. Another has Nell petting a cat in a scene that came close to pushing the film into R-rating territory. However, I’m old as fuck so it takes a bit more than some animal control and a bendy teen for me to give a shit about anything I’m watching. Luckily, Stamm has created characters that are intriguing with a subplot that I felt was more interesting than the main one. This helped keep me fully engaged, even when the movie starts ramping up and takes a hard left into horror in the final moments.
The only major issue I had with the film was that it’s presented as footage found from the documentary crew following Cotton. So if that’s the case, who the hell edited it? Who added the music? Who took the time to go out and film the establishing shots to set the moods? Unlike BLAIR WITCH or REC, two examples of films where the viewer is watching supposedly unedited tapes, LAST EXORCISM simply uses this style of filming while not being presented as such. I guess I’m not too keen on that as it’s sort of cheating. You get to use the low-budget trappings of an amateur documentary, but are able to edit it for impact. This is fine for films like DIARY OF A BAD LAD, where you are told upfront that this is exactly what someone did, but with THE LAST EXORCISM, that’s just not the case.
The rushed ending may leave some feeling like hooking up with me, all the promises of a good time ending frustrated and unsatisfied, but I love me some slow burn. I also don’t mind whirlwind wrap-ups seen in films like ROSEMARY’S BABY and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, especially when it’s also used to complete a character arc. In fact, once me and the kid got into our usual post-film discussions, I began to really like how THE LAST EXORCISM concluded and the decisions Cotton made at the end of the film.
If you go into this thinking you’re gonna see some balls-to-the-wall horror, you’ll be disappointed. This is a very effective thriller with some bits of horror that successfully conjure decent chills, showcases great acting from the entire cast, and includes an interesting, engaging story — even though I’m sure the ending will not make some happy. Even with the loud-mouthed kids sitting down in front, I’m giving THE LAST EXORCISM three and a half blowing jobs out of five.
Tags: Horror, Lionsgate, movie, review