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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Last Exorcism Fails to Expel Quality Horror

 The Last Exorcism: 2 out of 5 Stars
  
Cotton Marcus: We're looking for the Sweetzer farm. 
Caleb: You wanna make a U-turn...and then I want you to go back where you came from.
I don't have a problem with the "found footage" style of film-making. I think, when done well, it's a fun way of telling a story. That being said, there are the other times when one just has to wonder why someone would still be filming, which tends break the tension of the situation. I had this problem during The Last Exorcism. There has to be a solid 40 minutes of movie here, but for the most part, the movie just didn't deliver well enough, with both the problems I had with in the handling of the film style and the really terrible "rug-pull" ending.

Set in the South, we start in Baton Rouge, following Reverend Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian. Marcus is an evangelical minister who seems to function more as a showman than a devout man of god. We learn that he has performed many exorcisms over the years, but has become somewhat disillusioned, deciding to handle one last exorcism case and letting a documentary team follow him along. After choosing a letter at random and skimming the details, Marcus and the crew head out to a farm in Georgia. There, he must deal with a teenage girl, Nell, played by Ashley Bell, who is supposedly afflicted by a demon. At first, we experience the Reverend Marcus' style of exorcism, as he reveals the secrets of his handiwork, but the situation may call for much more effort as Nell may truly be under deep control of evil.

Directed by Daniel Stamm and produced by Eli Roth (who has made films that range from 'meh' to okay, but has apparently risen to the ranks of a big name over the title) have put together a film that is certainly slick and effective enough for the easy-to-scare teen crowd, which is why it's PG-13 and released during a time with little competition (meaning we can expect a sequel "The Last Last Exorcism," or a prequel "The Next to Last Exorcism"), but really not much more than a reason to have a girl walk around a house creepily with no lights on.

To the film's credit, it does a good job of building up the characters and creating some tension before settling into the real "scares." The (long) opening of the film establishes Marcus as a likable man, despite the way he portrays his beliefs. He is certainly not trying to make fun of the religion he is a reverend of, but he stretches the line of being a fraud and a healer. We get a little from the town that Nell is from too, but are then given plenty of back-story about her family at the farm. All of this happens scare-free and is done effectively enough where I would have been content watching this as one half-hour TV show special. But then we get to the first exorcism (a clearly and purposefully fake one), which only leads to everyone realizing that this is no time for games.

With that character development established, the film then tries to veer into horror territory, but honestly there isn't much to be seen here. I can always appreciate a film that builds tension (see 2009's House of the Devil) but this film doesn't do much to pay it off. Creepy possession POV scenes and the standard "demon-talks-through-corrupted-victim" scenes are nice and all, but more could have helped the film. There is really only about 15 minutes of the movie (I would say) that is devoted to being legitimately scary, as we deal with possessed Nell moving through the house, with lights going in and out, while the characters nervously wonder what is happening, despite continuing to move forward.

And that's really my problem; shooting in this format, the film doesn't give enough reason, beyond the very idea of making this a movie, to keep these characters involved in the action. Other, more successful films, may have suffered from this problem as well, but were more entertaining to downplay those thoughts. Here, you literally have a disillusioned and skeptical priest and a clearly nervous crew continuing to move through an area for no real reason, beyond the fact that a camera is involved.

My other problem is its ending. Of course I won't spoil anything here, but suffice it to say, the film could have still garnered a recommendation from me if something different from the last 10 minutes of this film took place. While the events that take place don't come completely out of left field, it's definitely way more abrupt than one would hope and doesn't do the film any favors. The massive groans I heard in the theater certainly solidified my opinions on this matter. Also, why did a "found footage" movie have a score?

Overall, if you're really desperate for cheap scares, this is one way to get them. There some easy thrills, some creepiness, and quite a bit of humor actually, but the film doesn't pull itself together well enough to be anything greater.

Louis: If you can't save my daughter's soul, then I will.

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