The Last Exorcism (2010)

Possession movies – they’ve not had a great track record in recent years; The Haunting in Connecticut, Possessed, Exorcist: The Beginning, even The Exorcism of Emily Rose failed to really compel. So is The Last Exorcism really worth your attention? Yes. Definitely. Go and see it. Right now. Actually, scrap that – read the paragraph below before you attend. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

That statement above might sound a little ominous, but it’s not – it’s a polite warning. Although The Last Exorcism is very scary in places and genuinely terrifying in others, please don’t be mis-sold by the film’s current marketing campaign. Don’t let the posters fool you – this is not an all out green-goo vomiting screamfest full of f*ck me Jesuses and gravity-defying clambering on the ceiling. The campaign poster with a girl somehow spidering around the top corner of a room never actually happens. Not even close, unless you count someone squatting on a cupboard, which you shouldn’t. Nor should you be fooled by the “Eili Roth presents” tag, as the film doesn’t contain chainsaw wielding psychopaths, lots of breasts or bucketloads of claret-splattered teenage morons. The Last Exorcism is a film with an incredibly subtle build, it’s an entertaining “documentary” that gradually gains in intensity and creepiness until it throws in some utterly terrifying scenes that surprise, shock and horrify. It is smart, sharp and brilliantly constructed. Consider yourself warned – ignore the marketing and listen to Gorepress. Now you may go and see it. NOW.

Faith-questioning evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has been an exorcist for years, since a very early age, and he’s finally had a change of heart. Realizing that exorcisms might actually do people more harm than good, he agrees to do a documentary on his final exorcism. He wants to expose the tricks, lies and misdirection involved in convincing families across America that exorcism is real and that exorcists can actually “cure” people of possession. Picking his final case at random, he takes the documentary crew to a small farm in the backwaters of Louisiana. Here they meet the Sweetzer family, who believe daughter Nell has been possessed by a demon, apparently responsible for a spate of animal killings on their farm.

So far, so Channel 4 documentary. This build is very interesting, with snappy, kinetic clips of Cotton preaching in church and revealing his views on Catholicism and exorcism. It’s genuinely convincing stuff and you begin to wholly believe in the film. Patrick Fabian is superb as Cotton, creating a surprisingly likeable evangelist minister who no longer takes his religion seriously. He’s an entertainer first and a believer second, and this is why his faith is so critically damaged. The entire cast of The Last Exorcism is excellent – even the smaller roles provide the necessary comic relief that you normally expect in any documentary. Ashley Bell is exceptional as the “possessed” daughter Nell, providing both a country-girl innocence and a terrifying look of absolute psychosis from one moment to the next – it’s a brilliantly disturbing performance. The cast all do a superb job of convincing you to buy into the premise – which is what makes the latter half of the film so harrowing.

Once Cotton and the documentary crew arrive at the Sweetzer farm, Cotton sets about proving how ridiculous exorcisms are, cheating his way to revealing “miracles” and “signs of the devil”, using strings, sound effects and even electric-buzzer rings to convince the by-standers it’s all genuine. Satisfied he’s done a good job and exposed the audacity of fake exorcisms on camera, Cotton and the film crew head back to their hotel. Yet it’s not over. Not by a lot shot. Cotton wakes up to find Nell in his hotel room, disturbingly catatonic, and he’s forced into doing another exorcism. But this time it’s different – very different – and soon the faithless minister must reassess his beliefs to defeat something he never thought could ever exist…

To reveal any more would be unfair and spoil the surprises. And there are a lot. Most of them very scary. Although it does occasionally tick the “possessed person” cliché box, this is perhaps unavoidable considering the subject matter, but even when it does dip into unoriginal territory it does so uniquely, smartly and very convincingly, and mostly importantly for a horror film, it does it scarily. The Last Exorcism is frightening – it lulls you into a false sense of security then gradually eats your safety net away, until you’re dangling over an abyss of horror and unbelievable tension. It’s very well done.

The Last Exorcism is not perfect, however. The ending doesn’t hugely satisfy, although it throws out a lot of interesting ideas, and it’ll receive a mixed response from audiences – some will love it and understand it, while others may find it lazy and stupid. The only real quibble is the occasional directional choice, where the “documentary” camera switches to another angle instantly and impossibly. This betrays the film’s realism, but it’s hardly noticeable enough to really upset the style and pace. Daniel Stamm does an exceptional job and should be lauded for his achievements.

The Last Exorcism is excellent. It’s a genuinely terrifying horror film that gradually sneaks up on you, twists around your nerves and then pounces. Despite some jarring directional choices, it is realistic, well acted, fantastically created and very scary. Watch it at the cinema if you can, because this deserves your attention. Now.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

One Comment on “The Last Exorcism”

  1. Very informative article.Really thank you! Awesome.

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