Film Review: The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism - Starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones.

‘The Last Exorcism’ is set in America’s Bible Belt, where the existence of demons and devils seems as likely an idea as that of the Good Lord himself.  Showboating preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) does not believe in satanic forces but he understands that many among his flock need a supernatural scapegoat for their daily misfortunes.  Marcus has carried out many exorcisms, even though he knows them to be a sham. In a sense, Marcus is a con-man, albeit a well-intentioned one, who makes a good living from ‘casting out’ demons.  His customers certainly get their money’s worth as Marcus arrives armed with all sorts of special effects, from fake demon sounds to crucifixes which dramatically emit smoke at the touch of a button.

Disturbed by two exorcisms which were carried out by others resulting in fatalities, Marcus allows a documentary crew to follow him around in order to debunk the whole procedure.  From a pile of requests, he selects the case of the Sweetzer family in Louisiana.  Their farm has experienced several unexplained and gruesome animal deaths and the finger of suspicion has been pointed at the teenage daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell.)  The girl’s father (Louis Herthum) feels that she is playing host to a satanic lodger who is making her carry out these unspeakable acts.  Marcus agrees to carry out an exorcism on Nell and uses every trick in the book to convince the Sweetzers that the evil entity has been well and truly shown the door.  Shortly afterward, Nell shows up in the preacher’s motel room looking decidedly the worse for wear and Marcus is gradually drawn into a battle with forces that he cannot begin to comprehend.

Following in the wake of ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘The Last Exorcism’ is another horror film which pretends to show real-life footage.  This is presumably intended to give the film that extra bit of edge by suggesting that the supernatural events depicted might actually manifest themselves in the real world.  I have always had a bit of a problem with this approach to storytelling for no matter how bizarre and dangerous things become in such films the cameraman always keeps on filming.  Even the most hardened war-zone veteran would surely consider dropping their equipment and doing a runner when confronted with imminent destruction at the hands of the Devil himself.

The growth in these ‘docu-horrors’ is no doubt due to the fact that we live in a ‘You Tube’ universe  where every aspect of life and death is now captured on film and presented to an audience for their approval.  In ‘The Last Exorcism’, the documentary element is pursued half-heatedly and therefore unconvincingly.  The acting of the principal players does not have the naturalism required to make them come across as genuine talking head interviewees and the drama is clearly pre-determined instead of occurring organically. The director, Daniel Stamm, seems to have little faith in his own ideas merely using the documentary style as a convenient dramatic structure. Consequently the format becomes a barrier which prevents the audience from being completely drawn into the proceedings.

Making an original film on this subject matter is something of a tall order as William Friedkin set the bar so high with ‘The Exorcist’ in 1973 that anything since has seemed a pale imitation.  ‘The Last Exorcism’ is no exception, although it has its fair share of jump out of your seat moments.  There are some gory scenes but not as many as you might expect with Eli Roth’s name on the production credits. Horror buffs will no doubt spot a number of influences on this latest film and the loopy finale is clearly nicked from…well, that would give too much away.

The initial half hour of the film, where Marcus’s jaded view of faith is established, is more original than the latter section where all Hell breaks loose. The tension and suspense is never really maintained at a level sufficient enough to keep the viewer consistently on edge. There are too many quiet comfort stops along the way. Still, this is not a bad effort and the content is intelligent enough to put it above much of the competition in the horror genre.  Special mention should be made of Ashley Bell who portrays the possessed Nell. The actress gives a very good performance, literally bending over backwards to convince us  that even the sweetest looking creature is capable of having a devil inside.

Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones

UK Release Date: September 3rd

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.


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