I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see THE LAST EXORCISM. In fact, the promotional trailers and print ads had me saying, “I liked this better when it was called every other possession movie since 1973.” Early word turned out to be virtually vitriol free and eventually I softened. What better way to spend a late August afternoon than in a movie theater? Most of my trepidations were doused in holy water about three minutes into the film thanks to the introduction of the film’s central character, evangelical minister and part time exorcist Cotton Marcus (PATRICK FABIAN).
Syrupy Cotton is instantly convincing as the type to instill dedication and his conspiratorial wink toward the audience allows a type of intoxicating inclusion that’s hard to resist. FABIAN works the viewer the same way Cotton greases his flock. This is how the best cons operate by giving you the false sense that you alone are special enough for fraternization. Thankfully EXORCISM avoids the pitfalls of being one sided. Just as we are privy to Cotton’s smirky chicanery, we are additionally made well aware of his affirmative good-natured intentions. He may not believe in the snake oil he’s peddling but as long as his customers reap the placebo benefits, what’s the harm?
Pride cometh before the fall and surprise, surprise, Cotton must come to terms with the idea that unlike himself, his latest possessed patient Nell (marble-eyed tulip pedal ASHLEY BELL) may be on the up and up. If there’s a tug of war going on here between science and religion, I’ll take a pass at taking sides. My little pea brain only cares whether the supernatural is allowed room in our world any more.
When I wake up in the middle of the night the coat rack in my room frequently decides to transform itself into a monster. Eventually it turns back into a coat rack but I know for at least a moment it was planning on eating me. Don’t look for gore or elaborate special effects (or even the levitation shown in one of the misleading ads) in THE LAST EXORCISM, it’s modestly content turning coat racks into monsters and then back into coat racks over and over again. It plays on your anxiety that at some point the coat rack will become a monster and remain a monster, never to be a coat rack again.
One thing I didn’t worry my pretty little head about was the movie’s faux documentary approach. Gratefully it does not open with a title card proclaiming it was discovered under a rock, so I just accepted it as a fiction that utilizes reality elements to give you a front row seat feel. It’s kind of a waste of time to point out incongruities that prove it’s not real, of course it’s not real. If you for any reason, even remotely suspect that this movie is “real” than your proper response should be to leave the theater and go directly to a police station and report that you have just paid money to watch a cat being bludgeoned to death and that oh, by the way some people were murdered on camera too.
While we’re on the subject of the whole faux-reality thing I should add that I really appreciated this film’s use of its Louisiana backdrop and its overall look. It’s nice to know that someone understands that a pseudo-doc approach doesn’t have to mean a completely artless production that looks like it was directed by a chimp. Can I also say that I must be getting old because it didn’t occur to me ‘till much later that T.L.E. was PG-13? I guess there comes a time when you stop wishing for each movie to out do the last in the blood and spectacle department and just start hoping for a story and characters that don’t bore you to death. Please don’t ever remind me that I said that.
The film’s finale has as many adversaries as advocates. Because I have a well-documented contempt for all audience members who aren’t me, I of course loved it. I kind of respect a film that just says, “You know what? Now THIS is happening, deal with it,” and isn’t afraid to stomp on toes. Sure it’s cartoon magpie crazy and throws a slushie in the face of the film’s hard-earned ambiguous tight rope act but it’s giddily mischievous too. The last image of reverend Cotton we are left with (foreshadowed in a nifty drawing of Nell’s) is a strong one. It’s a sharp reminder that the film took the time to present us with multilayered characters with inner lives rather than one-toned playing pieces on a snakes and ladders board.
I’m all for supporting every horror movie that comes down the pike and especially ones as thoughtful as this one, but I can’t honestly urge you to rush right out and throw your money down. I know it’s very bad of me but I can’t help thinking I would have enjoyed THE LAST EXORCISM even more if I watched it late at night at home by myself in the shadow of my coat rack.