Monday, October 21, 2013

The Last Exorcism (2010)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

Living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has a change of faith after the premature birth of his ill son, Justin (Justin Shafer). Motivated by the need to provide a living for Justin and his wife, Shanna (Shanna Forrestall) Cotton, against his will and new found beliefs, continues to perform faux exorcisms on “victims” until the tragic death of a child during another exorcism changes his mind.

After the Vatican opens an academy to train exorcists, Cotton embarks on a mission to expose exorcisms as a hoax. With help from his director/producer, Iris (Iris Bahr) and the camera man, Daniel (Adam Grimes), Cotton plans to record a detailed documentation showing the “smoke and mirrors” behind the scenes side of exorcisms to prevent another tragic death.

Cotton randomly selects an open letter from a small farming family in Ivanwood, Louisiana for the project. In Ivanwood, Cotton uses a possessed teenage girl named Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) as his first test subject. Cotton is met with some resistance from Nell’s brother, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), but Nell’s devout father, Louis (Louis Herthum) is more than willing to cooperate.

Cotton basks in the glory of exposing the conspiracy after acquiring the recorded footage of Nell’s staged exorcism, but an unexpected dilemma interrupts Cotton’s moment of joy. Frightened and visibly shaken, Nell arrives at Cotton’s motel room one night, and after careful observations over the next few days, it’s clear the demon within Nell is very real. Time is running out as Cotton struggles to comprehend the bizarre situation, because an unavoidable confrontation with Abalam (the demon within Nell) will force Cotton to make a series of moral decisions that will change his life forever.

Ashely Bell delivers the best performance here. Bell’s ability to randomly switch gears between this innocent country girl, and this deranged and creepy possessed victim is remarkable. Rest of the cast is decent at best, but Bell steals the show, easily.

Don’t expect any groundbreaking changes for exorcism horror films in The Last Exorcism. Nell spends a lot of time hopping around like a feral creature, you have the predictable and over the top exorcism scene at the end with the demon using Nell as a vessel, and torturing her body by breaking bones and the usual contortions. Plus, I can’t forgot about the non-believer (Cotton) seeing “the light” after a few spooky encounters with the demon.

But The Last Exorcism deserves credit for some effort in the attention to details department. Cotton gives an in depth explanation for the tricks used during an exorcism by showing all the little gadgets and magic tricks behind the chaos. And The Last Exorcism is able to maintain a sense of realism as a found-footage film. It feels like you’re watching a documentary, as Cotton and his crew interview numerous people throughout the film, and the “TURN THAT CAMERA OFF!” moments help pull everything together. Also, there’s a little wink to The Exorcist at the beginning, if you pay close attention. Cotton uses The Exorcist’s mainstream popularity as an example for the Vatican justifying the usage of exorcisms.

Patience is crucial with The Last Exorcism, because things don’t kick into high gear until the thirty-six minute mark. I’ll give The  Last Exorcism credit for playing some mind games with the audience. Nell IS possessed by a demon, and it’s more clear and obvious as the story progresses.

But they throw a monkey wrench in towards the end, because you’re lead to believe Nell’s unexpected pregnancy is causing all the problems. So believing his work is done, Cotton leaves Nell’s fate in the hands of Ivanwood’s local pastor. Pastor Manley (Tony Bentley) agrees to watch over Nell…..but Pastor Manley is hiding a deadly secret. Cotton and his team find out the truth behind Nell’s lie (Nell lied about having relations with a local boy), so Cotton returns to the Sweetzer farm.

After discovering a series of satanic symbols written on the walls inside the house, it’s revealed Pastor Manley is actually the leader of an evil cult. Nell’s demonic baby is delivered and tossed into a roaring fire, causing the flames to explode into a demonic entity. With his faith instantly restored, Cotto rushes towards the flame with his cross raised high in the air to fight the demon. Iris and Daniel try to escape, but Iris is hacked to her death by an axe wielding manic from the cult. Daniel is running by himself until he runs into Caleb. Here, it’s revealed Caleb is a member of the cult, and Caleb slits Daniel’s throat to end the movie.

Jaw-dropping stuff. The Last Exorcism throws out so many twists and turns during the finale. Just when you think it might be over, Cotton rushes back to the house to save the day, and the cliffhanger at the end is wonderful.

As I said before, The Last Exorcism won’t raise the bar for horror Exorcism films, and you’ll see a few corny, predictable moments here. Still, with some help from Ashley Bell’s outstanding performance, a handful of twists, surprises, thrills, and a sinister cliffhanger, The Last Exorcism is better than your annual Hollywood exorcism film.

Rating: 7/10

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