The Last Exorcism: Movie Review

The Last Exorcism: Movie Review
byMike Pickle for

Let's admit it horror fans. We equally love and hate the hand held P.O.V. style of film-making that has become prominent in the horror genre since the success of the Blair Witch Project. It can be a horrible, dizzying distraction in the wrong hands. In the hands of Director Daniel Stamm, it's just one of many tools he uses to get inside your head.

The Last Exorcism shows us that it's still possible to have a fresh take on both the hand held P.O.V. style and the demonic possession film. Each aspect plays off the other in a film that cares more about realism than it does about cheap scares. When the camera is addressed by the other characters throughout the film it constantly draws the viewer in to make it a more personal experience. When you pull an audience this close to the action it better feel real. Thanks to great acting, an open-minded, dedicated director and clever writing; it does feel real. It's not an experience of gut wrenching terror, but it has the potential to be frightening if it feels real enough for you to imagine you are in that situation. Otherwise the scares would be pretty tame.

The Last Exorcism begins and continues throughout the film with a seldom seen, two person documentary film crew following evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (played brilliantly by television actor Patrick Fabian). The troubled minister explains why he has lost his faith and wants his last exorcism to be filmed as a sort of confession. He is deeply affected by the story of an exorcism gone wrong that resulted in the death of a young boy and wants to prove and document the fact that exorcisms are dangerous and not real. He sarcastically half reads a letter from a small town Louisiana farmer pleading with him to perform an exorcism on his daughter. He says his livestock have been disappearing and his young daughter repeatedly shows up covered in blood. The minister takes the film crew to the farm and, of course, gets more than he bargained for.

Undoubtedly; in the mind of many horror fans, this film will suffer from comparisons to the Exorcist for being a demonic possession film and to The Blair Witch Project for it's faux documentary style. If you allow yourself to be immersed in the drama you will realize that this film has a style all it's own. It's not trying to be like it's predecessors. It paints a truly unique portrait of the prominent characters in which human drama complicates and enriches the supernatural elements. This film cares about its characters and succeeds in making you care about them as well. This is the main reason why the film works because you are invested in these character's lives when the demonic do do hits the fan. The scares are just tame enough to warrant a PG-13 rating, but don't let that fool you. The superb casting saves this film from mediocrity.

Actor Patrick Fabian, as the minister, immersed himself so deeply in the material that he was genuinely frightened in some of the more intense scenes and it shows. The disenchanted holy man's snide disbelief in his own profession provides a comic element as well as he charms and tricks his way through the ordeal until it proves to be all too real. A subtle realization that feels even more natural because the other actors are just as invested in the material as he is. In fact; some of the actors were given their real first names in the script so as not to allow them to create a character, but rather react to the situation the way they would react in real life.

The overprotective, God fearing father, Louis, is played by Louis Herthum. His virile dignity and fervent love for his family and God makes him both an identifiable and unpredictable character. A daunting task that Herthum makes look effortless.

Caleb, Louis's son and brother of the possessed girl, is played by the surprisingly genuine Caleb Landry Jones. In his own right, an unpredictable and unforgettable character who is equally enthralling whether he's making veiled threats to the minister or mocking him.

Making an impact in a smaller, but no less important role is the documentary filmmaker / sound tech, Iris, played by Iris Bahr. She evolves from an unseen, impartial interviewer to a crucial player and steps out from behind the camera at just the right moments. She ultimately becomes a voice of reason and another character to invest in. So much so, in fact, that her presence made the outrageous ending much more effective and believable.

Finally there is the talented and highly flexible Ashley Bell in the role of Nell, the adorably innocent girl being ravaged by the devil. She maintains an emotional core in her performance that quickly becomes creepy when the demon takes over without the aid of effects make-up, a spinning head or projectile vomiting. In one scene in particular; she does some impressive body contortions which made for one of the more straight-forwardly creepy scenes. A scene that was actually her idea.

I hesitate recommending this film to all horror fans because it's not for everyone. It's a mildly scary film that needs audience participation to get the full effect. The ending strays away from the realism of the rest of the film but I, for one, liked it for not being typical. Many films have been made with similar stories, but only a choice few have an ending that you really do not see coming and I did not see this one coming.

The Last Exorcism is not the groundbreaking, terrifying experience that is turning the horror genre on it's ear like the films that it's compared to and it doesn't claim to be. What it is, is a fun and overall original horror ride that is worth a viewing. If you're anything like me; this will make a very worthy addition to your horror collection.

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