Reviewed by Sean Decker
Starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Tony Bentley
Directed by Daniel Stamm
How to satisfactorily review a film such as The Last Exorcism – a flick whose eventual box office take will rely upon the lack of narrative knowledge an audience experiencing it will possess going in – without exposing the man behind the curtain? “Carefully” would be the answer, and given such, this brief stab will be as spoiler-free as journalistically possible.
Opening August 27th, 2010, via Lionsgate and directed by German filmmaker Daniel Stramm from a script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, The Last Exorcism is an Eli Roth-produced based psycho-drama “documentary” that revolves around Cotton Marcus (Fabian), a morally questionable Evangelical preacher and faux exorcist who allows a documentary crew to accompany him on what may be his last exorcism. Regarding the narrative there isn’t much more I can reveal, except to say that things aren’t necessarily what they seem in the rural Sweetzer farmhouse, where following a string of livestock mutilations Sweetzer patriarch Louis (Herthum) finds himself convinced that the culprit is none other than his emotionally-tortured daughter Nell (terrific actress Ashley Bell), whom he believes to be possessed.
The film’s suspense relies upon – as does The Last Exorcism’s thematic brethren The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, among others – the construct of “found footage” and the fear of what may be lurking just out of frame as the camera bounces and careens and teases, and if you favor that particular sub-genre of horror, then an impressive ride is waiting for you this summer. An inherent problem with these films – in this writer’s humble opinion – is the challenge of maintaining one’s own suspension of disbelief. Simply put, the question of when those “documenting” would forgo their own filmic aspirations purely for matters of self-preservation is a delicate hurdle, and just as Blair Witch occasionally strained credulity, The Last Exorcism occasionally plays in that fast lane as well. This is a narrative challenge inherent to the sub-category, however, and thankfully for The Last Exorcism, the complicated motivations of its well-drawn protagonist Cotton elevate the flick from simply being a bump in the night-vision type feature.
Star Patrick Fabian shines here, and while a lesser actor may have delivered a simply despicable character given the morally questionable aspects of Cotton, Fabian delivers a lovable rogue. Organic in his comedic moments and tangibly conflicted not only by his own wavering moral turpitude but in his theological beliefs (the very foundation of his upbringing), Cotton comes across as a three-dimensional and flawed yet caring man, who consistently walks a fine line between bravura and outright terror as he attempts to save not only Nell but his own soul in the process.
The flick also takes an intelligent and unique approach to its subject matter, delivering a religious and socio-economically thoughtful film and, in doing so, not only managed to immerse the audience in a believable universe but also to keep them off-kilter and guessing for the majority of the flick’s running time. Director Stramm proves himself with this deft approach and strikes a nice cinematic balance, delivering hair-raising chills (regardless of the PG-13 rating the film garnered) while at the same time eliciting downright empathy for the plight of his characters. Actress Bell no doubt assists greatly in this, as her many shifts from girlish vulnerability to calculating evil – whether they stem from demonic possession or mental trauma I won’t reveal – are a nice addition to the canon established by Linda Blair in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
The bottom line? Audiences should make a concerted effort to remain as in the dark as possible concerning all things The Last Exorcism until the film opens on August 27th, when they’ll have a chance to experience this enjoyable little scare-fest for themselves. I predict a healthy box office for this one, and while fans of classic horror cinema may find the flick’s final scene a tad too familiar, general audiences will most likely leave gasping.
4 out of 5
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