The Last Exorcism

10 Sep

Title: The Last Exorcism
Year: 2010
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writers: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Ashley Bell, Caleb Landry Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13, disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material
Runtime: 87 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

The Last Exorcism is a good horror movie in a year in which there haven’t been many of those to go see, but it’s still not a masterful one. My favorite horror movies are the ones that mess up with you psychologically, but nowadays those movies are hard to find, so I just like some raw stuff on-screen and see how that develops. This one doesn’t have that hard R-rating, but for some reason the fact that this one carried a PG-13 rating and not an R was something I was quite okay with, I didn’t need the rawness, and what’s more, I welcomed the unknown side of it all. This is the most R-rated PG-13 film you’ll find in quite some time.

It’s shot in this mockumentary style that everyone seems to be using lately, for which I guess the comparisons to The Blair Witch Project were accurate, but this is no Blair Witch, this is something else but that’s also quite effective, and there are some genuine chills in this one, and some rather scary surprises, but I don’t know, I guess it just kind of left me wanting more, because the potential was certainly there, and that left-me-wanting-more feeling was probably due to its more-than-uneven ending.

Now, the obvious question to ask about any horror film is “Was it scary?”, because in theory that’s the first thing these films should aim to achieve, even before thinking about conquering any sort of technical feat, and for The Last Exorcism the answer is “yeah, actually”. I usually don’t get that scared when watching your typical horror movie, so when I get scared I usually think that the film was just pretty exceptional at doing its job, and while the scares in The Last Exorcism are far from being the best we’ve ever seen, they are definitely the best we’ve seen all year, and that’s more than good enough for me.

I will say one thing, though, and this is the reason why I didn’t give this one a much better grade, and that’s that the last five or ten minutes of this film completely let go to waste what it had spent the past hour building up, and the whole film ends up crumbling because of that, and that seriously sucks. The movie starts up quite okay, then it turns into a really scary ride, and then, because of the writers who tried to kick it up one more notch, it tumbles and falls into over-the-top ridiculous territory.

Eli Roth, who we know from the gory Hostel films, is the producer behind this one, and much like he did in those films he directed, he uses little-known to unknown actors in this one. And they’re all just fucking amazing, telling the story of Cotton Marcus, a preacher who, even though he has been performing them for a quarter of a century now, knows his exorcisms are all a hoax, but that nevertheless performs them in order to get money to sustain his family. And then he lets a camera crew come with him to his last exorcism, to show them all the tricks he does to get the faithful people to believe this sham of his, tricks that include an iPod with horrible sounds, and just pure showmanship from the preacher, who approached this more as performance art than as a religious experience.

Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus wonderfully well, here’s a guy that I knew only from a handful of episodes in Veronica Mars and, more recently, Big Love, but that really does an amazing job at playing this guy. He finds just the right way to play Cotton Marcus, a man who has lost his faith a while ago, and who still has to do this exorcisms in order to provide for his family. And this is a film that relies solely on Mr. Fabian to get us engaged in the story, without him there’s no film, and we have to be grateful that this guy found the perfect balance for this character, if he had tipped over the scales one way or the other we could have ended with a totally different, and much worse, end result, so yes, my hat’s off to you, Mr. Fabian.

But anyways, back to the plot, Cotton selects a letter from a family that tells him their teenage daughter has been acting bizarrely, and that the livestock has been found slaughtered as of late. We get to meet the family, and get to see how they greet the camera crew and Cotton, the father begging him to take out the demon he thinks has possessed his daughter, the brother, in a very creepy performance by Caleb Landry Jones, just wanting the camera crew to leave them alone. And you know how it goes after that, Cotton ends up having to stay for a while with the family, gets to know their problems a bit deeper, and then it all goes downhill. But it’s a sweet ride, and I don’t mean just the scenes with the daughter, Nell (who’s played pitch perfectly by Ashley Bell), but also with the rest of the family, there are some truly amazing scenes that Mr. Stamm gets to craft in this film.

The Last Exorcism is a film that boats two wonderful performances, those by Mr. Fabian and Ms. Bell, and that has a director in Mr. Stamm that seriously knows how to build up some pretty damn effective moments, but that in the end just goes into this territory I found to be too ridiculous for my liking, which is why I can’t give this one the really high grade I would like to be giving it.

Grade: B

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