Film Review: The Last Exorcism (2010)
Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum
Running time: 87 minutes
Cinema release date: 3 September 2010
The Last Exorcism takes the tired exorcism genre, marries it with the equally tired faux documentary genre and almost manages to create something pretty interesting.
The Last Exorcism stars Patrick Fabian as the charismatic, fourth generation evangelical preacher Reverend Cotton Marcus – a character who has a striking resemblance to British chat show host Jeremy Kyle. Marcus has been practicing the Christian faith all his life, having carried out his first exorcism at the age of ten and cast out over two hundred demons thus far. Things become more interesting when Marcus confesses that he has started to question his faith after the near-death of his son culminated in him thanking the doctors and science for his son’s recovery as opposed to God. Given he had bills to pay and mouths to feed he continued his work as a faithless preacher. He hilariously shows how the faithful congregation will go along with anything he says managing to slip a banana bread recipe into a fast paced sermon. However, things changed for Marcus when he read about the death of an autistic boy in an exorcism gone wrong. Having made the connection between this boy and his own son, Marcus decided it was time to bow out of exorcising, but not before one final exorcism that he documents to expose exorcisms for the ridiculous performances that they really are. This leads to Marcus, film producer Iris Reisden (Bahr) and lone cameraman Dave Moskowitz (Grimes) making their way to the Sweetzer farmhouse in Louisiana to perform an exorcism.
The initial setup is one that we’ve seen countless times before. Since the death of his wife, Louis (Herthum) has turned to alcohol and Christianity to help cope with his grief. As the doctors couldn’t save his cancer suffering wife he has put all of his trust in God and refuses medical or scientific help. As irrational a conclusion as this may be, this has had severe consequences for his daughter Nell (Bell). She is home schooled so that Louis can ensure she is taught positive Christian values and is not corrupted by the outside world. This has supposedly not stopped the Devil interfering with the Sweetzer family as Louis claims Nell is possessed by the devil. When the Devil takes Nell, Louis’ livestock are slaughtered, there is no doubt that this is Nell as evidenced by her blood stained clothes. Nell has no recollection of butchering the livestock so it must have been the devil as no rational psychological explanation could possibly explain the carnage, according to faithful, Science-hating Louis! Marcus sees this as a textbook exorcism case and whilst he confesses that he doesn’t believe in demons, he justifies his work saying if he makes people feel better because they believe he’s rid their body of a demon then that’s good enough for him.
The first half of The Last Exorcism is entertaining, engaging and has a few hilarious laugh out loud moments. It’s questionable initially if The Last Exorcism can be considered a horror film as it feels a lot more like This is Spinal Tap than The Exorcist or The Blair Witch Project. Before performing the exorcism Marcus needs the room to himself to ‘spiritually prepare.’ Whilst alone Marcus shows the audience how an exorcism is set up, tying ropes to the bed so that it will tremble, attaching electrified wires to his thumbs so that Nell will suffer a small shock and convulse, and my personal favourite, a couple of pre-recorded demon voices playing in the background through hidden speakers. Perhaps the most ridiculous and hilarious moment occurs when Marcus says he will invite the demon to possess him, at this point Marcus falls to the floor as if feigning a heart attack, flails about for a bit and then presses a button on a cross that exhales smoke. With the exorcism complete Marcus takes the cash and is on his way – job done.
The horror really starts to kick in after the exorcism when Nell turns up uninvited at Marcus’ hotel room. It becomes apparent that Marcus is going to need to do more than stage a sham exorcism to help Nell with her pent up issues. Where The Last Exorcism shines above other similar films, is in Marcus’ ability to follow the more rational, scientific explanation. Too often in films the protagonist buckles under pressure and starts to question the rational, opting for a far-fetched spiritual explanation – the very definition of an oxymoron! Patrick Fabian puts on a shining performance here and it’s his ability to stay strong and not question his own beliefs that ultimately make The Last Exorcism more believable for the cinema viewer. Marcus’ personal touch and the single camera really help the audience believe that they are there with Marcus – his witty comments and amiable personality only enhances the experience.
If you like your horror with a guts out, blood drenched approach then The Last Exorcism is not for you – try Cannibal Holocaust, Hostel or even Ichi the Killer! However, if psychological horror coupled with believability is what you’re about then The Last Exorcism may be worth persisting with. There are some horrific moments; an unsuspecting animal is pulverised with a camera, faces are sliced, entrails leak out of animals and there’s even a decapitation. Make no mistake though – these events are not commonplace. The Last Exorcism seeks to uncover the problems of the Sweetzer family. What starts off as a tongue in cheek comedy turns into something a lot more unsettling.
Unfortunately, as has been the case with too many other films, the last five to ten minutes detract from the suspense and plausibility that the previous eighty minutes managed to build up. The climax takes what had become an unnerving, tense experience and turns it into an absolute farce that bears close resemblance to a certain comedy directed by Edgar Wright. This ending in itself is enough to undo most of the good that had occurred prior to this generic, unnecessary rubbish.
What starts off as a faux documentary comedy, turns into a fear inducing horror before veering off into a poor cliché. Whilst the premise is an intriguing one – an exorcism film for the sceptic – the ending is unforgivable and frustrating. This farcical nonsense has a detrimental effect on the entire film and on that basis I couldn’t possibly recommend it. What could have been a reasonable addition to the faux documentary horror genre ultimately becomes as significant as The Last Broadcast.