The beginning of The Last Exorcism establishes
the story in The South, particularly Louisiana, in such
a stereotypical fashion that it doesn’t come close
to off-putting; it just made me chuckle.
pretty much sums up the entire film for me. The environment
and characters feel authentic only because we’re so
familiar with them, but he tone and execution employed is
disjointed and dull. Sure, there are some genuinely frightening
visuals but none of them ever really scared or shocked me.
If anything, the film’s storyline and visuals merely
kept my attention despite falling into several predictable
places and familiar characterizations, along the way.
this is a movie that will do well at the box office because
it has “Exorcism” in its title.
help that the film immediately feels like two of my least
favorite horror flicks, The Blair Witch Project
and Paranormal Activity, with its documentary and
“found footage” approach. Add a dash of The
Exorcism of Emily Rose, a film that is much more intriguing,
and you pretty much already know where director Daniel Stamm
is going. The sad part is Stamm seems convinced you won’t.
the film does have going for it are two main characters
played by two charismatic and convincing actors. First,
we meet evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian),
who, despite exuding Southern preacher stereotypes, comes
across as a guy you want to listen to….maybe just
to see where he’ll trip up. He’s almost like
Wikus from District 9
in both the way he is inviting us along into his world and
they way we start to develop a like/hate for him.
given some history on him; apparently preaching is in his
blood and therefore (being in The South and all) so are
exorcisms. In fact, Cotton (get it, we’re in The South)
has been casting out demons since he was ten years old.
Imagine how duped you must be to believe that a kid who
hasn’t even hit puberty is gonna scare out the Devil.
you, the viewer, on a final exorcism (hence the title),
along with two documentarians into the thick of Louisiana.
He wants us all to see it go down. Answering one of the
many letters from the kind and simple-minded, convinced
a demon is slaughtering their livestock, he will show us
the admitted con that he is.
at the rural home of the Sweetzer family and are greeted
by the oddball son, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), who tells
Cotton and crew to turn around and leave, pelting the back
of their van with mudballs to confirm this isn’t a
suggestion and that we should be spooked.
then meets Caleb's twitchy and somewhat vacant father, Louis
(Louis Herthum), who shows us around yet doesn’t seem
to be disclosing the entire situation. Eventually we meet
his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), a common enough, yet equally
vacant, looking teen. Her father says she exhibits signs
of demonic possession at night. It’s hard to say what
is truly going on, since the entire family feels a bit off,
but one thing is certain, something has them spooked.
wastes no time, delivering what feels like his usual routine.
He gets big books of demons out and gets worked up and convincing
in his fraud, yet his three-piece suit is rigged to stage
the whole event. He performs an exorcism on Nell, right
in her bedroom, with believable enough smoke and mirrors
for all to see. It doesn’t last long though, as we
soon see that Nell is obviously not free of possession.
Now, Cotton and crew, and you the viewer are caught up in
something more real than we were led to believe.
goes to Bell and Fabian for giving us something real in
a movie that feels anything but authentic. Bell is the daughter
of actor parents; her father is apparently a well-known
voice actor, and she must have received some stellar tips
because the demonic sounds she summons are quite impressive.
In addition, her flexibility and contortions are mind-boggling.
There’s one scene in a barn, the scene that’s
in all the TV spots, where it looks like Stamm nailed her
feet to the ground and pushed her backward. She must have
taken months of yoga to get to that level of downward-facing
the movie, Fabian does a fine job of getting us to follow
him. You either want to see him severely screw up or effectively
pull his con. Unfortunately, the last half of the film,
had Fabian falling victim to a poor by-the-numbers script.
Stamm wants us to shout out at the screen and tell Cotton
not to turn the van around or not to go into the dark forest,
but instead I wound up looking at my watch.
viewers will just give in and go along with what Stamm is
doing here. The documentary approach will hook them since
it’s designed to get us to feel it’s all so
real. I get it, because it’s been done to death.
forgets that the way to get his audience to be sold on reality
is to give more time to the actors. I wanted to see Cotton
squirm more in his deceptive ways and battle with his own
doubt. Stamm makes an effort to go there, showing Cotton
earn the family’s trust and then see it all blow up
in his face, but then we’re given regenerated shock
area Stamm fails in is his in the scoring cues he employs
to build our fear. It’s another way to not trust his
actors and the audience. We’ll get there on our own,
thank you, there’s no need to help us along with shrieks
or dizzying camera jolts.
silliest moment is when the crew’s camera is taken
by a possessed Nell into the backyard barn for same fatal
one on one with the family cat. So, what is this? Demon
cam? I’m not buying it and neither did many in the
audience at the screening I attended. They wanted a scary
movie and they laughed throughout. It’s not a matter
of the crowd being a tough, desensitized audience; we just
don’t want to be insulted.
Last Exorcism fails in its attempts to convey realism
due to its overall approach, and unconvincing attempt at
realism. The worst offense is the ridiculous twist ending
which includes hooded occultists and a baby demon. I was
expecting Karen Black to peek out from under the hood and
give a knowing wink.
thick accents, the rednecks, the prevalent religions and
sweaty heat, all establish the setting for impressionable
white folk who think a demon possession is just as common
as grease on their skillet. I’m not one of them, so
I’ll stick to another episode of True Blood
to get the right kind of uneasy in Louisiana. Hey, at least
it’s not as painful to watch as the last movie I saw
in the title.
review also appears on David's own website,
Keeping It Reel.)