Aug 18, 2010

Posted in 2010s, Coming Soon, Flicks by Decades, Ray, Reviewers

The Last Exorcism (2010)

The Last Exorcism (2010)

What do you get when you take The Blair Witch Project, add a healthy dose of The Exorcist, and throw in a dash of House of the Devil for some flavoring?  You get the best horror movie of the year so far.  If that description makes The Last Exorcism sound a little derivative, it’s not.  Although its primary influences are clear, it always feels fresh, and frequently finds ways to scare the hell out of you.

The Last Exorcism follows the Rev. Cotton Marcus, who’s invited a documentary crew to accompany him on his final exorcism, so he can expose his tricks of the trade.  You see,  ever since the birth of his son, Cotton has been undergoing a crisis of faith.  It’s only deepened after he learns of the death of a young boy who was suffocated during an exorcism.  Sure, those people meant well, but the death still weights on him heavily.  He no longer believes in the power of exorcisms, and he wants to show everyone how exorcists like himself stage them.  Choosing one plea for help at random, he decides to meet Louis Sweetzer, a poor farmer who believes that his daughter Nell is not only possessed, but also responsible for the mutilations of his livestock.  So, the crew travels with him from Baton Rouge to the Sweetzer farm in the backwoods of Louisiana to capture his final performance on film.  Unfortunately for Cotton, things are much more complicated than he expected.

To begin with, the performances are top-notch.  In particular, Patrick Fabian is excellent as Cotton.  He practically oozes the charm and charisma of a Southern pastor.  Early on, he demonstrates his charisma for us as he preaches to the flock at his father’s church, getting the crowd so whipped up that they end up shouting amen to his mother’s banana bread recipe.  He’s so perfectly played, you like him even as he’s accepting payment for an exorcism we know was a fraud.  He doesn’t like doing it, but like he says, he’s got a family to feed, too.  Also deserving praise is Ashley Bell, who plays poor, possibly possessed Nell.  Bell shows a disturbing talent for going from sweet to creepy in mere seconds, even getting horrified gasps out of a thin smile at one point.  The movie gets a lot of mileage out of her ability to contort herself like a gymnast from hell, twisting her hear around at odd degrees, and nearly bending herself in half.  The effect of her contortions is disturbing, to say the least; one of the movie’s best scares comes when we see only the blurry reflection of Nell tugging at her face.

That’s one other thing I like about this movie: The Last Exorcism is pretty low-key with most of its scares, relying heavily on Nell’s body horror, the shadows, and sound effects for most of the movie.  Where most films would hit the audience over the head with flashy effects to constantly remind us, “hey, this girl’s possessed”, director Daniel Stamm wisely eschews modern FX for cheap and effective substitutes which do the job very well, while also maintaining the suspense as to whether Nell really is possessed, or simply suffering from certain mental and emotional traumas I won’t spoil here.  He makes great use of the POV style’s limitations, with the cameraman being forced to swing around, looking for danger.  Stamm shows that some directors can make a PG-13 horror film that’s actually scary.

I may actually be in the minority for liking this movie as much as I do (the audience at the screening I attended seemed very divided over the ending), but I still have to recommend that you see The Last Exorcism.  It’s an inventive take on the possession story, it’s very well-acted, and the second half is constantly tense, right up until the abrupt (and very scary) ending.  Even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like the way it ends, the previous 80+ minutes will frighten you more than enough to make up for it.

– By Ray

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