The time is here and I am DYING to know what you guys thought of Lionsgate’s The Last Exorcism. BC loved the film (read his thoughts), and now David Harley writes in with yet another glowing review for the Eli Roth produced chiller that follows Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) documenting his final fraudulent days as an exorcist, only to come face-to-face with a possessed girl (Ashley Bell) that might just be the devil himself. You can read David’s review inside — and then I DEMAND that you return to Bloody Disgusting and write your own review to tell all of BD what YOU thought. It’s that damn important!
Cinéma vérité has become part of the dime-a-dozen variety in the genre these past few years, giving way to many triumphs and failures. For every Cloverfield and REC, there’s a Diary of the Dead and Open Water not too far behind it. Coupled with the fact that we haven’t had a good, straight-up religious horror flick in years, The Last Exorcism has the odds stacked against its favor. But it overcomes them surprisingly well, creating a chilling atmosphere with likable characters, something of a rarity in the hand held camera sub-genre.
For those who are tired of religious horror films being heavy-handed, fear not. Reverend Marcus Cotton (Patrick Fabian), our protagonist, is a Christian leader who views religion as a form of entertainment and exorcisms as providing mental restitution for those who need it. Noticing a trend in violent outcomes during church-sanctioned purifications, Cotton throws together a documentary crew to eyewitness one of his in order to show the world that the practice of exorcising demons is, in fact, a hoax perpetrated by the church to take money from mentally disturbed people. Randomly selecting a letter out of a pile of requests, he comes across Louis Sweetzer’s (Louis Herthum) plea to “heal” his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell). And, simply put, if Cotton hadn’t stepped in shit the second he decided to visit their farm, we wouldn’t have a movie.
With mock docs, the element that really makes or breaks them is whether or not the universe is one that can suck its audience in. Writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland struck a really good balance between the horrific, comedic, and dramatic elements that make up their gothic yarn. Cotton is a smarmy, though endearing, swindler, dishing out puns and dry humor left and right, giving the thirty minute setup the charm it needs not to bore. And in Louis and Nell (and even her brother, Caleb, to some extent), they’ve created a sympathetic family who, for reasons I’ll leave unexplained, lead very tortured lives. And even though the story flip-flops through many different developments and theories, causing character arcs to drastically shift, you have that initial investment through the setup that makes you cling to these characters through their trials and tribulations. Some of the performances are awkward, though for once it adds to the charm of the film, since most of the characters on-screen are from a backwater town and have never been on camera before.
The atmosphere created by director Daniel Stamm and cinematographer Zoltan Honti is a breath of fresh air, creating tension and several chilling scenes by just walking through a dark room. With a minimal amount of jump scares, and virtually no blood and special effects in the entire film, The Last Exorcism manages to make you uncomfortable for most of its running time ala the horror classics of yesteryear. The ending, which is sure to divide many people, is actually really fitting in the context of the film. In an attempt to remain as spoiler free as possible, all I’ll say is that while it does appear to come out of left field, it really doesn’t in hindsight and if it had ended the way most people are expecting it to, everyone would have complained its final moments were too similar to another recent horror hit.
The presentation also has its drawbacks, leaving the film with two minor problems. While the score by Nathan Barr (True Blood) is full of ambiance, I can’t help but think it really doesn’t belong in the film, especially since this is supposed to be a real-time deal like REC, where the camera is rolling almost every second except for when the characters are sleeping. Speaking of the camera, the film’s other issue is that the camera achieves these shots that seems really odd considering the situation at hand in the flick. If your subject is speaking to a possessed girl, why would you take the camera off of the girl and look around the room? And why would you randomly go outside in the middle of the night and get establishing shots of the house? It comes across as a little too slick at times, which takes you out of the film and directly works against the angle Stamm and Co. are going for.
The Last Exorcism is one of the more enjoyable theatrical experiences I’ve had this year, making me laugh and sweat simultaneously. Along with Martyrs, it’s easily the most satisfying religious horror film of the past fifteen years, giving us a few well-constructed characters and an interesting premise that keeps its grip on you until the very last frame.
Score: 4/5 Skulls