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The Last Exorcism (2010)

| April 23, 2011 | 0 Comments

If there is anything in the movies that drives me nuts, it is a film that is made with the purpose of reconstituting the success of earlier, and much better, movies. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but sometimes the results are god-awful.

The Last Exorcism is a fake documentary that rips off three successful movies at once: The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Following on the heels of the latter two is understandable, that genre is hot right now and so is the intriguing idea of capturing a live exorcism. Yet, I’m displeased to see that almost 40 years after William Friedkin’s adaptation of The Exorcist, the vast number of imitators have yet to capture what made that film special: Realistic characters that we come to care about who witness a terrifying supernatural event that seemed to have dropped into their lives. The Last Exorcism begins with a little of that, establishing its main character through interviews, but after a promising start, it becomes just another worthless imitator.

Shot documentary-style with a relatively unknown cast, the movie follows the misfortunes of Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fagen), one of those ministers who can rile his congregation on the glory of God and get the crowd so fired up that they don’t even notice that he has slipped his wife’s bread recipe into the sermon. Marcus was once known for performing exorcisms but he stopped when he learned of a case of a young autistic boy who was killed during a botched ceremony. Plus, there were some issues with his own disabled son Setting out to prove that exorcism is a fraud he takes along his director/producer and a cameraman to record an supposed case of demon possession. He answers a letter by a farmer named Louis Sweetzer, who wants him to rid their home of a demon living inside his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell). Marcus tries various tactics to make the events seem genuine just to prove his theory. The problem, of course, is that Nell is the genuine article. When the camera is fixated on her, her body contorts, she speaks in demonic voices and when she puts her feet in cold water it begins to boil.

The good reverend is, to say the least, perplexed. Like all heroes in a movie like this, he refuses to get out of town while the getting is good. He spends most of his time either watching Nell’s odd behavior (most of which makes no logical sense) or fighting with her father. The heightened drama kills the documentary element of the film. After a wonderful start, in which we get interviews with Marcus and his wife, the movie goes on autopilot and becomes just another silly exorcism movie with all the usual business we’ve come to expect from imitators of that great 1973 classic.

The performances aren’t bad. Patrick Fagen gives a kind of down-to-earth feel to Marcus and Ashley Bell does a good job playing a girl who is frightened beyond words of the demon living inside her (I understand that she actually performed the body contortions herself). I think the movie lets them down.

The central mistake is that there is never any question about whether or not Nell is actually possessed. It is obvious and unquestioned early in the film and the movie turns into a series of just the usual exorcist-type behavior. That’s really too bad because I think director Daniel Stamm really had something here. If he had stayed on the level and just maintained a realistic feel, we might have had a really amazing experience. But he gives in to this temptation to heighten things up and it falls apart leading to an ending that is just plain stupid. What a missed opportunity.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2010) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized