The Last Exorcism (2010): Really Damn Good

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.


  1. Glad to read another glowing review. Not even the kids on their cell phones chatting away in the theater and not paying any attention yet were yelling "that made no sense" as the credits rolled, could not ruin this one for me. If you read my review, you know where I stand and that I absolutely loved it. But I want to mention some points you brought up. One is the title Cotton. While that might have been marketing suicide, I think it would be perfect for this film. The Last Exorcism is giving many people some misleading thoughts going into the film. I had to explain to many people at the hotel where I was saying that it was not like The Exorcist at all. That was the first question asked by about 6 different people throughout the weekend when I told them I saw it. And another thing you mentioned is the ending, which of course I won't spoil. But I will say it made sense, brought the film to a conclusion heavily foreshadowed throughout the flick and it was very different. I already loved the film but that final scene took it to another level, imho. Very nice wrote up, Becky!

  2. Loved this film, and loved your review! Very well put!

  3. Geof, Glad that you loved it too! And glad to see that you agree with some of my points about the movie as well. I can't wait to talk more about the conclusion, which adds a lot more complexity to the layers of the film, when more people have seen it!

    Zombie Mom, Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words!

  4. Becky,

    awesome review.
    I caught this again tonight and was fortunate enough to read your comments on my site beforehand. You're dead on with your advice to pay attention to Caleb as he provides a lot of clues as to what's going on. watching out for those cues added a whole new layer of understanding to what I'd seen.

    I also caught another very cool insight into Cotton. Just before the second exorcism the grip asks him what he expects the second exorcism to possibly achieve and he doesn't answer. I took this to be the moment that he comes to grips with his Faith, and it's something much more personal, something that defies explanation. That made his final actions in the film make much more sense.

    There's also a great visual touch here, as we see him prepare on his own for the event. It's very similar to something we see him do earlier, during the VO when he describes his crisis of conscious when we see him trying to rev himself up to preach, or to me more accurate-to perform. The second time around we witness a much more solemn moment of solitude.

  5. Great review Becky. I liked your comment over at PoT regarding it being more of a filmed live POV rather than found footage and I think that works perfectly. And in a sense, almost makes you think you are the willful 4th party (woman w/ mic, camerman, pastor, 'you') experiencing everything with them as it unfolds. Maybe a bit of a stretch but I think it lends itself to that feeling.

  6. Patrick Fabian really made this movie. He was perfectly cast as Cotton.

    I loved this film up to the end. My problem with the ending isn't so much that it takes a sharp left turn from the overall tone of the film up to that point, but because the FINAL end left me with the question: Who Made This Movie?

    It's clearly the product of a professional documentary crew whose work was then processed by professional editors, color correctors, and so on and so forth. But, given the way things turn out, such activity simply would not have been possible.

    That's why I hate the ending. It demolished the world that had been created in the film.

  7. Mike, I'm glad you enjoyed your second viewing and found new things. I probably won't watch it again in theatres, but I'll be anxious to check it out on Blu-Ray.

    Steve Miller, Look at PoT's comment above yours. I commented on his site to a similar thought (Who put the film together?). My response is that I don't think it matters because it's not necessarily even found footage. The filmmakers never make this claim, like in Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity. The film is simply told from the POV of the documentary camera. Just like traditional cinematic films switch POV's all the time to security cameras, handheld cameras, etc. And no one questions how that footage is acquired.

  8. I really enjoyed the film, but the last 15 minutes had me wide-eyed and cringing at the complete and utter cop-out of the director.

    I won't go into detail(as some of your readers may not have seen it as of yet) but let's just say: Dennis Wheatley.

    Now, not that I have anything against Mr Wheatly! I have a great love of The Devil Rides Out and other such fare...however that type of ending seemed way off key for this movie. It started off brilliantly(a great set up, pacing) and I agree, the Cotton Marcus character was played perfectly by Patrick Fabian...

    Change that ending and you would have a far superior film. Let's hope an alternate exists, perhaps on the director's cut?

  9. Going in to my reading today I never, ever expected to see so many positive reviews of the film. I expected it to crash and burn in the box office and be forgotten until The Asylum got their hackkneed version on DVD shelves first. Still not motivated enough to spend the money in the box office, but I will be picking this one up as soon as it hits DVD!

  10. The commercials said I would be scared. They said this was the scariest movie I would ever see....I wanted to be scared silly.......I wasn't. This movie was not scary. It was silly. Things started out just fine. But there wasn't any "real" demon possession. Just "wanna be" evil. If you loved the Exorcist you will hate The Last Exorcism.