*I tried not to spoil too much, but just in case, this review may contain some minor spoilers*
Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) serves as a pastor at his father’s church and is well known in the parts of Baton Rouge. As we’re shown what occurs during his sermons, introduced to his family, and are basically familiarized with what he does on a day-to-day basis, Cotton reveals that he used to perform exorcisms. Using a book that serves as a demon index that’s been in his father’s possession for years, Cotton would use elaborate tricks during these “exorcisms” that would give the impression that he was exorcising these “demons” these families were plagued by. Cotton justified his dishonesty by saying he helped these people move on with their lives and that he has a family of his own to feed. When word got back to Cotton about an autistic boy who was suffocated to death during one of these exorcisms, Cotton decides to expose how much of a fraud exorcisms really are. He travels to Ivanwood where he meets the Sweetzer family and is about to experience something that will not only question his faith, but will put his life on the line as well.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of films about exorcism. I watched The Exorcist years ago and while it’s probably due for a re-watch now that I’m older and a bit more experienced in movie watching, it still felt like “one of the scariest films of all time” was fantastically overrated. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy [REC] 2 which is more possession based than its predecessor and at least hinted at exorcism. Despite all of that, The Last Exorcism still looked intriguing and it managed to mostly deliver before falling victim to its own momentum.
The first person, handheld camera, documentary filming style is used here and while most can argue that the technique has been done to death, it was probably one of the film’s greatest strengths. While this filming style has felt like certain directors cashing in on a current trend in the past, it’s at least utilized to its full potential in this film. It actually gave The Last Exorcism a bit of a realistic quality to it. Not that you actually believed this was actually happening, but it was easier to put yourself in the shoes of these characters than if it had been filmed the traditional way. It’s worth noting that there’s at least one scene involving the camera and Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) that is pretty creative and memorable.
The Last Exorcism is certainly a slow burn kind of film. It starts off a bit sluggish and begins to snowball into a tense, nail biting thriller. The first half of the film is filled with bits of humor and the life of Cotton Marcus. We’re introduced to what his sermons are like in church and he begins to explain these faux exorcisms he performs in order for these families to continue on with their lives. Things are a little slow at first and it may put off some people, but it pays off and really adds weight to Cotton’s character. Character development is never a bad thing and it’s almost nonexistent in many horror films these days. It was nice having the little bits of comedy actually be funny, too. The one downside is that if somebody religious goes to see this movie; they may view it as blasphemous. To tell the truth, that’s one of the reasons I was enjoying it. Films that make you think or make you question your religious beliefs can be pretty extraordinary.
The film shines brightest during the scenes directly leading up to or taking place during Cotton’s exorcisms or pretty much anything involving Nell Sweetzer. The things this little girl is actually capable of on camera is insane. Once Abalam shows up, the film has already established itself as a suspenseful and high tension building horror film. Things seem to be going so well until we get to the closing minutes of the film. That’s what will make or break your opinion of The Last Exorcism. On one hand, what transpires is connected to something else earlier on in the film and is pretty amazing. On the other hand, it’s kind of lame and the last few moments seem to channel The Blair Witch or an updated version of Rosemary’s Baby.
The Last Exorcism has a wonderful concept and its documentary style only adds to the terror taking place on film while it firmly establishes itself as an edge of your seat, bone-shaking supernatural thriller, but it really seems to collapse under everything it has going for it in its conclusion. It’s certainly still recommendable if you’re a fan of horror or exorcism films, but just be aware that The Last Exorcism may drop the ball before the credits roll.
Theatrical Release Date: August 27, 2010
Director: Daniel Stamm
Genre: horror, thriller
Runtime: 87 min
Cast: Patrick Fabian as Cotton Marcus
Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer
Iris Bahr as Iris Reisen
Louis Herthum as Louis Sweetzer
Caleb Landry Jones as Caleb Sweetzer
Tony Bentley as Pastor Manley
John Wright Jr. as John Marcus
Shanna Forrestall as Shanna Marcus
Justin Shafer as Justin Marcus
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Be sure to check out my article on the AMC Studio 30 where this screening took place right here.
Sources: imdb.com, comingsoon.net, youtube.com, bloody-disgusting.com