Pros: Well thought out, rich in Character development, good mystery. Is she or isn't she?
Cons: Not a standard Devilish Horror movie. Expect that, and you will be disappointed.
The Last Exorcism (2010) Directed by Daniel Stamm
There are no beginning credits. True to the Cinema Verite style, this documentary style movie begins interviewing Pastor Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who is very forth coming about his life groomed for the ministry. Cotton performed his first exorcism at age 10. That is the age his son, Justin (Justin Shafer) is now. But Cotton lost his faith almost the day his son was born. But his brand of religion was as much showmanship as it was theology, and he was still a hell of performer.
Now, he is getting out, but before he goes, he is going to make a documentary about Exorcism to stop the practice. Sometimes people die in the course of an exorcism, and it is Cotton's calling to stop that. He hopes this documentary will accomplish that.
They choose one of the letters he receives at random, and the trip takes them from Baton Rouge down to Ivyville, LA. The Sweetzer farm lies far into the boondocks; when you see the alligator in the field, you are just about there. They are not greeted warmly; the Ginger headed local suggests they return where they came from, punctuating his opinion with a few dirt clods flung at their van. Then they meet Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) the father. Louis is a man in crisis; his wife died two years ago from cancer. His son, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), is the fellow who threw rocks at Cotton and company. And his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is murdering his livestock; waking up covered in blood, with no memory of what she has done.
It is obvious Louis has had his own crisis of faith, turning his back on his old congregation led by Pastor Manley (Tony Bentley), even home schooling Nell. He is an alcoholic; the proof is in the gin blossoms on his face. Caleb displays more than a few signs of anti social behavior, but he seems genuinely concerned for his sister, and genuinely convinced his father is the problem.
Into this mix of fear and ignorance, Cotton Marcus prepares to deliver his services. And the documentary shows him setting up; wiring the pictures to rattle, setting up the speakers that play the demonic noises, even how the two rings deliver shocks to the afflicted, and how the cross is made to smoke. All set up, Cotton puts on quite a show.
Mission accomplished, Nell seems relaxed, the father is happy, and the film crew Iris and Daniel (Iris Bahr and Adam Grimes) are happy to have what they came for in the can. Mission accomplished. Triumphant, they head to the motel, ready to trudge back to Baton Rouge in the morning.
Until Nell makes a visit to the Reverend Cotton Marcus in the middle of the night, in his motel room. And when they head back to the farm, it almost seems that a demonic voice is saying, "You Ain't Done Yet, Boy." And the voice is right.
This movie is extremely Cinema Verite, coming across as a documentary. While harking back the Blair Witch Project, Daniel is a better camera man, and it is less nausea inducing than that rollercoaster ride in cinematography. That said it is far less The Omen, and far more The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This movie is not focusing on the Devil having his way with a young girl, but with the culture of the evangelical exorcism, and how it interacts with the victims. If you are looking for an updated The Exorcist, you will be disappointed.
That said, the movie delivers. I want to make special mention of one performance; Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer. Looking like Michael Cera's little sister, she is a sweet young thing. But her skills at contortion make her demonic possession in a way just as disturbing as Linda Blair with her makeup and the head-spinning Mannequin.
And it is that reliance on real world ability over Hollywood Magic that keeps this movie true to itself. It keeps you in a constant tension...is she possessed? Is she psychotic? Further, Daniel Stamm understands just as it far more erotic to wonder if you are going to be kissed than to kiss, it is far better to make the audience wonder if he is going to do something horrible than to throw a bucket of blood and viscera across the screen like some Italian gore monger. I saw much of this movie through the spaces between my fingers, and yet it is only rated PG-13.
Still, while I enjoyed it, I heard the comments of my fellow movie goers as they were leaving the theatre. Some felt cheated that they had not seen demonic rapes and ghouls eating flesh. If that is more your speed than Psychological Horror, I suggest you watch Piranha 3D, or skip the scary altogether, and catch Avatar again.