The Last Exorcism (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Last Exorcism (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEI'm not really much of a fan of horror movies.  Most of them seem like an excuse to rattle off some overly obvious social commentary while butchering people in the name of high art.  They're still above the curve of quality compared to, say, romantic comedies but still aren't among the most successful types of film for me.  I add this particular caveat of mine when it comes to horror because The Last Exorcism is a pretty good horror flick and I was surprised at how engrossed I was by it.

Those going in expecting another Paranormal Activity, be they fans or indifferent to that film, will either be pleasantly surprised or greatly surprised.  Sure it's using the same kind of hand camera/found footage horror tropes that have sprung forward in recent years but it executes them with a certain sense of pacing and style.  The standard shaky cam aesthetic is eschewed for some sense of professional photography, which is always nice because we can actually see what it is we're supposed to be scared of.

Then there are the events that lead up to the plot of The Last Exorcism and give the film a tinge of regret and skepticism that I found refreshing.  Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has been leading a congregation with his father ever since he was a little boy.  While brought up to be a preaching prodigy, Rev. Cotton also performed exorcisms at the behest of his church and learned from a dusty old tome containing the proper latin phrases needed to identify and combat demons.  But the truth is that Rev. Cotton doesn't believe in demons and barely believes in God anymore ever since a young autistic boy was killed during an attempted exorcism.

On the surface Rev. Cotton seems a slick oil salesman but the screenplay paints him in a far deeper light than expected.

Before then, he just thought he was providing a service to those that needed it.  Now he's not so sure about the possibility of spiritual fulfillment and allows a documentary crew to follow him around on an exorcism so that they can see how he fakes it (lights, smoke generators in the cross, etc).  The crew joins him on his latest exorcist journey to see Louis (Louis Herthum), who believes his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) has been taken up with a demon.  It's a fair guess given that she seems to be murdering his animals in her sleep and smearing the blood in various designs on her clothing.  Watching them is Louis' appropriately named son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) who tries to threaten Rev. Cotton and Co. to leave them alone.

The events unfold with Rev. Cotton's skeptical commentary running over everything.  He's a likable, sad guy who played a hand in someone's death when he knows it could have been avoided.  Patrick Fabian lends a nice bit of gravitas to his performance, and you can see in every interaction he has with Nell and her family that he's torn between giving them what they want and what he thinks they really need.  It's an unusually mannered performance for this kind of film and one I'm grateful for.

I just wish that the locals could have been treated with the same respectful and intelligent touch as our lead.  If the Rev. and his crisis of faith seem like they may have come out of a Bergman film, then the locals and their intense spirituality seem straight out of Deliverance.  It's all fire and brimstone with little nuance or appreciation for how their beliefs are formed and how they sustain through tough times.  Louis provides a nice counterpoint to all this with a distrust of science bred from promises doctors made when his wife had cancer, but that still leaves the other scene chewing locals and steadily ominous Caleb to contend with.

Not the most encouraging sight for a skeptical exorcist.

As distracting as it was, their performances and mannerisms do end up having a crucial point to play in the plot of the film.  The culmination of which, I must say, is as preposterous as it is entertaining.  It's a nice touch that the film is as skeptical of demons and exorcisms as it is willing to embrace the possibilities of spiritual danger and redemption.  I can't say that I was scared during it's run time (the implications of something like Winter Light frighten me a lot more than Freddy Krueger) but I was excited and entertained.

There's no sign of these found footage horror films leaving anytime soon, what with Paranormal Activity 2 racking up an impressive box office gross and several more sequels and spin offs planned, but I wish more of them were handled with the kind of intelligence that The Last Exorcism displays.  Yeah, demons and ghosts can be pretty scary things, but even more so if the implications of their existence seem to have some kind of resonance in our world.  The Last Exorcism understands this to a point, and offers a great ride in the meantime.

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The Last Exorcism (2010)

Directed by Daniel Stamm.
Written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland.
Starring Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum, Ashley Bell, and Caleb Landry Jones.

Posted by Andrew

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