The Last Exorcism

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.

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Amanda By Night
11 years ago

I have nothing to add as I haven’t seen it, but Patrick Fabian is SO hot. The reason I’d like to see this movie is to see him… and only him! Professor Lasky from Saved By the Bell: The College Years as a minister who preforms exorcisms?!? Way too sexy.

Jeff Allard
11 years ago

Patrick Fabian is really good in this and so is Ashley Bell as Nell. I liked the story a lot and thought the climax brought the storyline to a perfect end. I suspect that a lot of the hostility towards it is from people who just didn’t get what was happening or didn’t look back on the movie and see how well the conclusion had been foreshadowed. What I didn’t like was the faux-doc approach. If you’re going to go with that format, at least play fair within the confines of that set-up. Otherwise, it just looks like lazy storytelling. One thing I admire about Blair Witch is that it didn’t take any easy narrative outs. It stuck to the rules of its premise, even when it would’ve been less constrictive to fudge them. Last Exorcism, on the other hand, just goes with whatever’s convenient. And its scares are pretty tepid, which is never good for a horror movie, but I still liked it more than a lot of horror movies I’ve seen in the theater this year.

Brother Bill
11 years ago

If you enjoyed TLE, I highly recommend you check out the 1970s documentary “Marjoe”, which is about B-movie actor Marjoe Gortner’s (Food of the Gods, Star Crash, I think Earthquake, etc.) previous career as a child evangelist. “Marjoe” follows Gortner’s real-life decision to get out of the preaching business as an adult. He’s decided the whole thing is a show-business scam, and he brings in a documentary crew to serve as sort of a confessional outlet, and to explain his theatrical techniques at the pulpet.  It’s pretty clear that the opening segments of TLE got some inspiration from this film. In fact, when the pastor in TLE says something like “They love the blood” (referring to bloody religious iconography) it’s almost a quote from a line in “Marjoe” where Gortner advises the camera crew that his is a ‘very bloody religion’. Engaging, insightful stuff… and hey, it’s MARJOE freaking GORTNER!!!

Tommy V
11 years ago

“I have a well-documented contempt for all audience members who aren’t me, I of course loved it.”

What more could you possibly want in a review!! I would have been perfectly happy if you had left it at that followed only by a “Go see it if you have the time and it’s convenient.”

11 years ago

I just saw it yesterday and thought it was fantastic.  The people I were with didn’t like it at all, especially the ending – which I thought was great.  They wanted more explanation – I felt, it as all you needed.
What really worked was the acting – they always felt like they were in a documentary, not pretending to be in one.

Pax Romano
11 years ago

Excellent review, I enjoyed this movie as well.  And I thought the ending was a blast!

11 years ago

With two small children at home it’s extremely rare the wife and I make it to the cinema. So when we had an afternoon free we jumped at the chance. The fact the my wife was just as eager to pick this to see tells me she’s the one for me. We started with a sushi lunch at our favorite place which is important to the story.
As the movie started to unfold I knew something wasn’t right. I start to develop a headache of migraine like proportions and all the nausea that goes with it. I tell you think because through it all I willed myself to stay in my seat. And I’m better for it.
The movie caught me from the first frames and keep me there, food poisoning and all, until the last slice at the end.
I knew once it ended that this was going to be another love it/or hate it affair. More times than not I need to be on the non-traditional side. And the cinema verite style tends to REALLY get people riled up.  Loved Blair Witch (was ridiculed for it), rather enjoyed Cloverfield (was told by people that it made them sick), was disappointed by Paranormal Activity (everyone said scariest movie ever!), loved Rec (“They make movies in Spain?”)
So I knew the main complaint besides the ended was going to be the bitch “But it wasn’t even scary!”  Boo to you BOO I SAY!! I’m so glad movies like this still get made (albeit rarely). It maintains my faith in good film making and story telling. Thanks for listening.

11 years ago

Oh my god! One of the roles had shrimp tempura in it!! DUM DUM DUMMMMMMMMMMMMM.