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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Exorcism (2010) review


Patrick Fabian (Reverend Cotton Marcus), Ashley Bell (Nell Sweetzer), Iris Bahr (Iris Reisen), Louis Herthum (Louis Sweetzer)

Directed by Daniel Stamm

The Short Version: Enjoyably grim and tension fueled devil movie models itself on the BLAIR WITCH swapping out a foul mouthed film crew for a priest who's lost his faith in god and two equally religion free partners. Dreams as revelatory occurrences is a minor plot point that adds a layer or two to the foreboding sense of evil the closer Marcus and his disbelieving cohorts get to the truth. An unholy marriage of both ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973). A nice surprise among a lot of theatrical and DTV dreck.

A doubting priest uses his lack of faith to make money off other peoples fears by disproving cases of possession by evil forces. For his last mock exorcism, he decides to take an apparently dubious case of demonic possession in New Orleans, Louisiana and make a documentary out of his findings. But for the Reverend and his crew of two, the horror becomes all too real and they must make a choice to believe, or make the ultimate sacrifice.

In the tradition of the blockbuster sensations THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (2000) and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) comes this notably similar styled production that closely follows the template laid down by the former. Almost plagiaristic at times, this 'PG-13' horror (BLAIR WITCH and ACTIVITY were 'R' rated) drums up a sufficient amount of eerie goosebumpery leading up to its fiery climax that further reinforces its BLAIR WITCH borrowing. THE LAST EXORCISM wasn't nearly as successful as those other two 'Found Footage' films, but it made a nice bundle considering its 2 million budget.

I had little faith that this movie would be worth watching, but I was pleasantly surprised at the overall unpleasantness of the whole exercise during the risibly fear filled 82 minutes (minus end credits). Speaking of faith, one could say that, at least as far as this movie is concerned, the lack of faith in those that at one time believed in a higher power is the very reason evil is perceived (and shown) to be far stronger. Had the reverend not treated his last years as an exorcising priest as a farce, things may have turned out differently. The group repeatedly treat their subject with an insulting level of derision that, when the time comes to pay the piper, they've nothing but empty pockets. The location for this picture, like BLAIR WITCH, is an out of the way farmhouse in deepest, darkest Louisiana and that sense of isolation married to a heightened sense of the unknown helps a great deal.

The nerve jangling score by the talented Nathan Barr is guaranteed to give you the creeps. It uses similar motifs heard in devil movies past, but his score possesses cues that hit chords that match what is transpiring onscreen. Barr has been involved in producer, Eli Roth's other productions and delivered satisfying orchestrations in those films as well as the down home hillbilly horror of 2001 MANIACS (2005) and the recent slasher thriller OPEN HOUSE (2010). He definitely has an ear for horror.

The ending is kind of telegraphed early on, but it doesn't deter the increasing level of spookiness. Still, the ending does hold a shock surprise, but horror fans that disliked BLAIR WITCH will probably dislike this movie for much the same reasons. As mentioned above, the movie follows that films pattern pretty closely. In addition to similarities with the ending, the Reverend and his two man crew talk with a few people about a possible devil cult in the area and ignore several warnings to turn back when it's made blatantly clear they're not wanted.

Marcus even brushes aside a couple of disturbing and life threatening signs that leaving the Sweetzer farm was the best option. Why? It becomes apparent that Marcus disbelieves Nell is actually possessed and that her mania is psychotic and not related to any sort of hellfire and brimstone. Even when they are assured that Nell's problem is in her mind, the trio decide to hang around for more clues even after they've nearly gotten out of the town. Having thrown away their sole opportunity to get away with their lives, the Reverend and his creeped out pair of documentarians foolishly head back to the farmhouse for more answers to new questions that prove hazardous to their health.

The movie literally goes to hell at the conclusion that further solidifies the BLAIR WITCH connection although at least one digital shot of something in the background is present and not counting quick cuts in the camera lens that show what appears to be supernatural frequencies interfering with what's being shot. As for the bloodletting, little is shown, but there is a modicum of the red stuff at times and several minor elements add a lot of tension at just the right moments. It's never really outright scary, but fear is irrefutably derived from the script carefully building to a scene payoff that results in making your skin crawl on more than one occasion.

Shot for under 2 million over the course of a few years, Stamm's demonic effort is a slickly mounted movie and was much better than anticipated. Fans of the 'Found Footage' style of Hollywood horror will find much to cover their eyes over here in this surprising spook-fest. Aside from belonging to the shaky cam brand of moviemaking, if you enjoyed such recent fare as HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009), you will likely enjoy this as well. Don't forsake a chance at seeing THE LAST EXORCISM.

This review is representative of the Lionsgate DVD


Aaron said...

I had issues with this one, V5. I mean, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it quite a bit. I bought the DVD and consider it a good investment. My problem with it wasn't so much the ending and the direction it goes, but the inconsistency of the documentary style that they were seemingly going for. It starts out as a mockumentary with a bunch of talking head footage, and then it basically disregards that and turns into a regular movie at a certain point, but still using the cinema veritee style. And the presence of a score and editing (the titles over the talking head parts, the camera cutting away from a demonic possession in progress to get reaction shots from the producer, etc.) make it even more confusing. Sure, they could have taken the documentary footage that they filmed and added music in post, but the very last scene in the film completely squashes any possibilities of that! Maybe I'm just being nit picky, but I found those inconsistencies to be pretty annoying. I also have issues with the ending, but only because it didn't feel like it belonged in the movie. Otherwise, I liked it a lot. However, without Eli Roth's name attached, I honestly believe that this would have ended up getting released with those After Dark Horrorfest films that come out every year and it wouldn't be getting as much attention as it has been. Speaking of which, I think LAKE MUNGO was a much more effective horror "mockumentary".

Aaron said...

Holy crap that was a long comment. Sorry.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I thought it was a little odd in a couple spots, but figured it made sense that the cameraman would try to get a shot showing Marcus' response just as they do on all these "reality" shows that plague the airwaves these days considering they didn't believe any of the stuff they were doing till it was too late.

The ending I didn't have a problem with, either. I guess it's not entirely impossible that had the film been thrown away, or thought to be destroyed, someone could have found it in the trash. The movie already doesn't answer a few things as it is, so I didn't think that much about it. I didn't think I was going to like it at all, actually, but yeah, I can see this being one of the AD Horrorfest flicks.

Make your comments long as you see fit, Aaron!

Franco Macabro said...

Me being one of the biggest unbelievers on the planet, I dug this movie a lot, precisely because it goes the way you dont expect it to. I mean, you dont expect a movie about exorcism to have an unbelieving priest who wants to unmask religion, the ending took me by surprise and I really wasnt expecting it to go in that direction, though I wasnt pleased with the ending, I didnt hate it either.

A creepy movie that plays with your expectations of it.

One thing I didnt like about the marketing scheme: the girl never sticks to the wall like spider man. The poster lied to us! But whatever, it isnt the first time that happens.

venoms5 said...

If they had went in that direction having her crawl up walls and things it would have messed with the ending. I'm kinda glad they didn't go that route, actually, especially the way it all played out during the last ten minutes. It's like the demon was giving the priest numerous clues but his doubts are what got him (supposedly) and the others killed.

But yeah, I thought it was going to be more like an actual demonic possession movie, too, and was curious if the girl was really possessed, or not. I didn't really know what truly was going on till the end.

Franco Macabro said...


I thought she was being raped by her dad and that she had his baby, I loved how they maintained that uncertainty all through out the movie till the bitter end.

Yeah, it was his doubts about the existense of demons that got everyone into trouble, he thought he was so right, in the end, turns out he was completely wrong about the whole thing. I liked how the film makes you think its about the unbeliever being right all along and the kaboom, turns out the guy didnt know crap about the real truth.

I also didnt want her crawling up walls, but I hated being lied to by the poster, you know what I mean?

venoms5 said...

OH, yeah, I agree. They were taking a gamble with that one for sure.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Im interested in seeing how you guys interpreted the ending, because I still believe that the ending was all part of the same hoax that Nell was playing into on the farm. I dont think the cult existed or that she was possessed, but that someone caught wind that Cotton was going to expose the church and exorcism as a fraud, so in order to maintain control over peoples minds and wallets, they staged this elaborate hoax to instill the fear of god in people once more, even at the cost of human life. Thoughts?

venoms5 said...

The only thing I interpreted from the ending was that the demon was playing all along on the priests lack of faith. The clue was the "blowing job" bit while they were in the barn. Also, how the son was "relieved" when he realized Cotton was a charlatan. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late.

There was a satanic force emerging from the fire not to mention all the pentagrams painted in blood all over the house. If I were religious I would highly doubt that a group of bible thumpers, ever crazy as they may be, would resort to using such satanic paraphernalia to get their point across, much less human sacrifice.

I do hope there's no sequel and they leave this one be. It works fine as a stand alone.

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