Spoiler Free Review! Maybe later, I'll post about the ending (I don't see what all the fuss is about; I liked it) after more people have had a chance to see it.
It’s been a while since I walked out of a theatre discussing how much I loved a character from a horror movie, or any movie for that matter. If there’s any fault to The Last Exorcism, it’s the uninteresting marketing campaign behind one of the most interesting subject matters to be analyzed in a horror film. Comparisons to Paranormal Activity are inadequate. And comparisons to The Exorcist itself are just plain unfair. The Last Exorcism shouldn’t be compared to these movies because it is unique enough to stand on its own.
"Just, uh, take deep breaths...oh and ten Hail Mary's"
If only the movie had stuck with its original title, Cotton, then perhaps people would not have been as misguided going into the film. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have opened to over $20 million at the box office either. We all know the superficial plot: An evangelical minister, Cotton Marcus, brings along a documentary crew to film the final exorcism he will perform. Here’s what the film is really about: Cotton Marcus, a jaded minister raised as an ardent evangelical, attempts to expose exorcism as a scam in order to protect easily-duped religious fanatics. He eventually discovers that his last exorcism is not going to be as simple as past cases. The nuances of Cotton’s character make all the difference to the story of the film. Patrick Fabian’s performance is absolutely perfect, capturing every bit of my interest even during the slow, expository scenes.
Take a seat and wait until your number is called.
Your Exorcist will be with you shortly.
Some have complained that The Last Exorcism takes a while to get going. While this may be true, I found every piece of information/footage to be engaging. Director Daniel Stamm introduces us to evangelical showmanship, rural Louisiana culture, and the sheltered Sweetzer family. Speaking of the Sweetzers, the entire cast gives terrific performances. Ashley Bell, as the allegedly possessed Nell, will hopefully not be given the Linda Blair treatment for her great work here. What I enjoyed most about the characters, locations, and other exposition is how far away from Hollywood this film feels. A nice breath of swamp air for a change.
In terms of the found footage aspect of The Last Exorcism, the style didn’t have much of an effect on me. Films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity successfully used this technique to create atmospheric scares (and to lower their budgets), but The Last Exorcism primarily uses the technique to present a topic and its characters in a more interesting fashion. As I said before, the movie is really about Cotton Marcus. The mockumentary format works so well for capturing the story of his childhood, his father propelling him into ministry, his crisis of faith, and his motivations for uncovering a widespread scam. The cinematography is more professional and more choreographed than most found footage films (hey, it’s a pro documentary crew filming it after all). So we are still treated with establishing shots, a variety of angles, and EDITING! Thus, this movie doesn’t have the inevitable found footage bore aspect that TBWP and PA suffer from.
"There is a difference between a sixteen-year-old girl
and sixteen-year-old psychopath."
In the end, is The Last Exorcism all that scary? Ehhhh, no. It’s got creepy moments and intense scenes here and there. However, scares aren’t what this film is all about anyway. Rather, it sheds some light on several disturbing realities: lack of education in extreme evangelic households, the dangers of said extremists, the disconnect between rural and mainstream society, science and medicine versus faith healing, and most importantly, one’s personal battle when caught between the modern world and a conservative upbringing.
The scariest thing about The Last Exorcism is not knowing what to believe in the end. So check it out and see for yourself.