The Last Exorcism

Saturday January 15, 2011 in 2010 cinema | horror

The Last Exorcism follows The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity along the path of mock documentary horror films. Hand held cameras, rapport between subject and camera operator, increasing fear in the subject as things slowly grow out of control – these things have become something of a genre cliché. Indeed, I was almost put off watching The Last Exorcism because I believed this type of film had nothing more left to offer. And producer Eli Roth appeared not to have done himself any favours either, this movie being touted as the out and out horror it certainly isn’t. So for a film that received such a mixed reaction last year, does The Last Exorcism have anything at all to offer? Yes it does…

Ashley Bell in The Last ExorcismFirstly the performances in this film are all first rate, making many of the negative reviews unjustified. Patrick Fabian is outstanding as Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister who’s made a sideline in providing an exorcism service. He readily admits he’s a fake, using no more than clever conjuring skills and the reliance of his gullible victims to get by. However, he is ready to come clean and, prompted by stories that many exorcisms have ended in deaths, suggests a documentary crew capture his very last exorcist duty.

So far so good, with director Daniel Stamm slowly building pace as Marcus travels into Middle America to visit the Sweetzer family, where young Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed with a supposed demon and doing terrible things in the farmyard. Bell delivers the other outstanding performance in the film, and it’s compassion for Nell that draws the viewer, and more importantly Marcus, in further. Not unpredictably, the film changes gear after his fake performance to rid the Sweetzer’s of their “demon”. As we are expecting, his troubles have only just begun…

Whilst it delivers nothing new for the horror genre, I found The Last Exorcism surprisingly effective. If you’ve read any other reviews it will be no surprise to hear that the ending has met almost universal disapproval. Rather than a shock or twist conclusion, it’s just a surprise in that the last ten minutes or so of the film appear to be from something different altogether, not at all in keeping with what’s happened in the last hour or so. The final minutes also invite too much comparison with the wrapping up of The Blair Witch Project that make full appreciation of The Last Exorcism hard to justify. And viewers will no doubt come away with other borrowings from more original films. I counted Rosemary’s Baby and Race With the Devil amongst then.

I’m still recommending this though, primarily for the superb Fabian and Bell. And, whilst it certainly isn’t a horror masterpiece, it is certainly an at times very creepy film.

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