The “shaky cam” horror film is a trend for a reason these days. So far, it has successfully produced entries in various niches in the horror genre including witches (Blair Witch), ghosts (Paranormal Activity) and zombies (REC). All produced very effective scares, and somewhat plausible reasons as to why a bunch of people getting stalked and murdered would be carrying around a camera with them at all times.
Well someone decided that it was just about time for exorcism movies to get the same treatment, and it’s a subject that could bring with it a legitimate explanation for the touting around of a giant HD camera. This one actually comes with a boom mic operator too!
Revered Cotton Marcus is a fraud. He’s a southern preacher who has come to the gradual realization there is no God, but continues to give sermons and performs phony exorcisms because he believes it comforts people, real or sham. The paycheck doesn’t hurt either. But with the Catholic Church training more and more exorcists each day, and deaths on the rise as a result of botched ceremonies, Cotton believes it’s now his mission to expose the practice for what it is, a scam.
But when his final exorcism takes him down south to rural Louisiana, and he encounters a troubled girl named Nell Sweetzer whose demon appears to be very much real and immune to his fake dog and pony show, he starts to question his newfound LACK of faith. But as things progress further, and more facts come to light, the debate between whether or not these symptoms are psychological or supernatural becomes the central issue of the film.
It’s exactly as convincing as it looks here.
Unfortunately, despite a very workable premise, The Last Exorcism is fundamentally just not a scary film. In fact, I often found myself laughing when I was supposed to be on edge. It starts with Reverend Cotton himself, who is normal one minute, but then a quick cut to him in church shows him doing a bad impression of a TV televangelist. Granted, he’s doing it with a wink and a smile, and knows he “performing,” but the drastic shifts between plain talking minister and Pentecostal nutcase (“WILL THE LORDA HAVE MERCYA ON YO SOULA!”} makes the character inauthentic on a level that goes beyond just him being a doubting pastor, but a completely unbelievable character in this “documentary.”
I also hate to say it, but Ashley Bell’s Nell Schweetzer is more terrifying as her homeschooled, repressed self than she is as an actual “demon.” Her creepy stare and soft spoken answers made my skin crawl, but once she was scuttling around the farmhouse, murdering livestock and contorting her body in bone-breaking ways, it’s nowhere near the level of say, The Exorcist, and all seems rather tame.
There’s just nothing that scary about her. One time, while in demon mode, Nell grabs the camera and tapes herself murdering a barnyard cat. The entire time, rather than being creeped out by the act, I was just wondering, “man, this demon is really tech savvy!”
Ahhh stop looking at me! Go back to murdering cats!
I’m also not sure who wrote the now-immortal demonic line about giving the Revered Cotton a “blowing job,” and I’m even less sure who decided to make that THE pivotal moment in the entire film, but all involved should know that the audience should not be laughing through what’s supposed to be the dramatic climax of your film.
For a film blessed by Eli Roth, I’m really surprised this didn’t go further. Usually movies that don’t bother with actual tension at least up the gag out factor by heaping gore into the mix, but outside of the aforementioned unfortunate cat, there’s really not a whole lot of that either. It’s just a girl in a bloody nightgown who runs around and can do the splits. Not exactly bone-chilling.
The film gets into some really interesting issues when it puts forth the suggestion that Nell’s issues might be entirely in her head, as she could be acting out as a result of some past great trauma. It could have been a pretty excellent psychological concept to explore, but the film only touches on that possibility briefly before vaulting into an absolutely absurd ending that I almost couldn’t believe was in the same film. The Last Exorcist falls victim to the old plague of “one twist too many,” something no doubt inspired once upon a time by horror’s fallen angel, M. Night Shyamalan.
It’s a bummer, because I feel like done correctly, the subject of mental anguish could have been seamlessly blended with demonic possession into a “which is real?” scenario that could have been head-scratching and terrifying at the same time. But rather nothing is really ever that scary, and the definitive, moronic ending takes any bit of intelligence this film might have had and throws it into a bonfire.
2 out of 5 stars
So, how about that blowing job?