Friday, April 1, 2011

The Last Exorcism

Directed by Daniel Stamm.
2010. Rated PG-13, 87 minutes.
Patrick Fabian
Ashley Bell
Iris Bahr
Louis Herthum
Caleb Landry Jones
Tony Bentley
Logan Craig Reid
Shanna Forrestall

Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has been preaching ever since he can remember. As a very young boy, his father not only had him in the pulpit, but delivering fire and brimstone laced sermons. Before he had even hit puberty, Cotton graduated to performing exorcisms. He’s now highly sought after for his ability to dispatch demons. He’s also a fraud. He has become disenfranchised with the church and not completely sure he even believes in God. He wants to expose the entire industry of exorcising demons as all fakery and showmanship. To do so, he’s making a documentary not only explaining this, but actually filming the last exorcism he will perform. Yes, this falls squarely into the young, but rapidly growing horror sub-genre of “found footage” movies. Though this is the rare one that doesn’t tell you this up front, you can still guess how it ends for Cotton and his crew. If you’re stuck, think Shakespearean tragedy. If you’re still stuck, read a couple Shakespearean tragedies.

Despite having a pretty good idea how it finishes, these movies can work if the journey to that finale is a good one. The Last Exorcism builds nicely and gives su some tense moments. All of which involve 16 year old Nell (Bell) whom, along with her father, believes she is possessed by the Devil. Her brother Caleb (Jones) has a different take on the situation. We in the audience are led to believe she is, but there may be something to what Caleb thinks. Will Cotton and company figure this whole thing out? What will happen when they do?

Their next move is often a hotly debated topic amongst our would-be filmmakers. It’s what propels the movie. We already know what we think of Nell. Our interest in in how our heroes will react. We’re also interested in what they think is happening. A wide array of speculative statements are made wheny they repeatedly try to come up with a gameplan to deal with their ever-changing situation.

All of this works well enough. Most of us aren’t scared because not only have there been lots of exorcism movies for us to learn from, but this one is fairly obvious in its machinations. Still, we’re intrigued. We wonder how all of this will affect Cotton’s faith. Will he find a logical, human explanation or will he run back to church, apologize to the Lord and beg forgiveness?

There is a big problem with The Last Exorcism. It can be traced back to what type of movie it is. The genre dictates an abrupt ending. That happens here, but only after a revelation we need to know more about. Literally, two minutes after we see something that makes us want to see lots more, the credits are rolling. This works fine in Cloverfield and more recently Paranormal Activity. It doesn’t quite fit, here. In this case, it feels like the most interesting parts of the movie are purposely excluded.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

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