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Is This the New Face of Horror? I Hope So.


As I wrote in my Coming Attractions post, horror dealing with possession or satanic cults is horror that sticks with me when it is done well. Possession movies are most often a sub- set of the evil child movies. To be honest, I don’t normally care for evil child movies. It seems that many of them try too hard, rather than letting the natural creepiness of children lay a subtle framework for the film.

Enough about my preferences and on to the film at hand!

The Last Exorcism is not a story about a possessed child. It is the story of a pastor that lost his faith long ago, yet continues to preach and deliver people from demonic possession/oppression. The film is directed by Daniel Stamm, who, based on his filmography, likes to play with blurring the lines between documentary and film.

Patrick Fabian (prolific television guest star) plays Cotton Marcus, a Louisiana pastor who began his career as a preacher; I believe they said around age 6. Following in the footsteps of his father, Cotton learned the tricks and necessary traits to work the congregation into a frenzy.

After reading a story about the death of a child during an exorcism ceremony, Cotton decides that he can no longer continue to perform exorcisms. Cotton defends exorcism by saying that while he no longer believes in demons, (effectively stating that he no longer believes in a God) the service he once provided can help people that are held captive by the thought that they are possessed. Exorcism can help the mind release the thought, basically, because if one believes they are possessed, they can also believe that the ritual has set them free.

When Cotton comes across a story that The Vatican is opening a school to teach the exorcism ritual, he decides that he needs to take action to stop people from buying into the sham and to protect children from accidental death during exorcism. To do this, Cotton hires a film crew to follow him on what will be his last exorcism. Selecting a random letter from his pile of requests, Cotton tells the crew that they will follow the request to completion, capture it on film to reveal the process and thereby debunk exorcism.

The letter requesting help from the pastor takes the crew to southern Louisiana, an area, we are told, that because of the multicultural background, has many varied views of religion. The crew decides to get some footage of the locals talking about various superstitions that center around the area. I got the feeling that the crew was out to show how simple the townspeople were. That feeling was verified by Cotton in the last clip, interviewing the locals.

Cotton and crew arrive at the Sweetzer farm and must convince Louis Sweetzer, played by television “that guy” Louis Herthum, to allow the cameras. While we don’t see what was said during the exchange, we see Cotton using his charisma, charm and position as a pastor to convince Louis to allow the filming of the exorcism.

Then we meet Nell, the star of the film, played by the child like (You’re kidding… she’s 24?) Ashley Bell. Bell oozes the simple innocence of a sheltered country girl. She is polite in a way that is lost to today’s youth and there is a genuineness to her character. This innocence makes the demon manifestation even more unsettling. Bell can go from sweet, yet confused to downright creepy with nothing more than smile.

We are allowed to watch Cotton set up the space for the exorcism, complete with a myriad of party tricks that give the illusion of the supernatural. Cotton performs a trite, well rehearsed ritual and claims to have cast the demon out of Nell. Louis pays Cotton a fairly large sum of money and the crew departs.

This is where the movie kicks in.

I don’t want to give too much away. Everything I’ve given to this point is build-up for the second half. Suffice to say that the exorcism did not work and because of his arrogance, Cotton has put Nell in danger, potentially in more than one way. We get a chance to see the demon at work in Nell.

What we really get to see is Bell’s star potential. I am hopeful that this will be her breakout role.

As the movie progresses, we are left to wonder about secrets in a small town. Who is guilty, who is telling the truth and who all is involved. Questions that are answered before the final, unexpected ending of the movie.

One of the strong points of the film is that every image we see is viewed through the lens of the camera. One of the weak points is the shaky cam stuff. Some of the attendees of the film were not prepared for the extent of the shaky cam. Cloverfield would not have been a friend to those individuals.

Casey Criswell of the Bloody Good Horror podcast, who went with me to check this one out, said of the film, “While it was no “Exorcist”, it was still a pretty fun watch.” Casey’s right, it is no “Exorcist”, but maybe it’s The Exorcist for today’s generation. A generation whose horror consists mostly of poorly made remakes. This movie surpasses the last big film of a similar subject, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, by staying away from the courtroom and maintaining the use of the camera for our point of view. Nowhere near as shocking or well made as The Exorcist (Director’s Cut coming to theatres clocking in at 2hr 45 min.), The Last Exorcism plays well for the younger crowd, although, some will find that it drags a bit.

It’s not perfect, but few films are. I enjoyed it.

How much?

Out of $10, how much would I pay to see this again? $7, but only with people that have not yet seen it.

Jay (J.C.) Fralick is the co-host of the Wanna Watch a Movie Podcast
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Image: Lionsgate



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  1. Natepete says:

    @Giggleloop and Casey Criswell

    Thank you! I will definitely be checking this one out. Its not so much that I cant stomach the gore, but I dont like when a movie lacks suspense and fear and relies solely on a bloodfest.

  2. Gospel X says:

    It was a great movie that I cannot recommend enough, even if people will find the ending disappointing. What makes it work is that the movie built up the other explanation so well that the ending becomes somewhat challenging. Some say that the ending was overly simple or something, but I think that people didn’t like having their expectations dashed so soundly. And that makes the ending sad because by that point they’re removed from their faith.

    And Bell’s performance was spectacular. Nothing more can be said about it. Both the immature innocence and the mature vileness were believable coming from her. The only thing that was immediately not believable was that she was a 14 year-old girl. Her features are a bit too refined and her voice too low to get that past me. But this is typical casting, so what can you do? It was easy to suspend my disbelief about that, especially considering the overall context of the film.

  3. Carl Carter says:

    Good review, at first glance I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this film but it sounds like a slightly different twist – I may go see this when it’s here in the UK. Thanks for keeping us Brits ahead of the curve…

  4. smartbunny says:

    It looks just like Emily Rose; long nightgown, barn, contortions. They even talk about her doing her own contorting like Jennifer Carpenter did. I guess I will have to see it, but it looks so similar.

  5. indie says:

    loved this movie. i personally love everything eli roth does. his true love and passion for the horror genre as a whole is quite refreshing and its nice to see that he has an appreciation for all different kinds of films on the horror spectrum. i’ve got a ton of respect for the guy.

  6. Danno says:

    oops . . . to finish my point:

    … the make-up/special effects/vomit/etc. that was in The Exorcist.

    The ‘shaky-cam’ was at times a little much but it was the ending that ruined the movie for me. To me it felt slapped together and almost as if they couldn’t decide the best way to end it, ran out of time, and said. “Ok, lets just do this.”

    All in all, worth seeing and I would agree with the $7 rating.

  7. Danno says:

    The Exorcist was a better movie as a whole. Bell’s character and her acting were leagues better in a creepy/scary way with almost none of the make-up/special effects/vomit/etc. that was in T

  8. Kay-Tee says:

    She’s a beautiful girl…..I will check this movie out when it comes out on DVD and I can watch it with all the lights on and the shades open. Horror flicks that deal with the occult and demonic forces stick with me much more than slasher films.

    I saw that Bell did all of her own stunts? Former gymnast?

  9. Sandy says:

    Only because of your write up am I going to check this out. I’m not one for the gore either but do love to be creeped out, some… Nicec job on the review!!!

  10. @NatePete Yah, don’t worry about the gore. It isn’t that type of flick. You’ll be fine, though there are some good creepy scenes!

  11. Nick Bicbobick says:

    You’ve enticed me. Sounds like a good watch. Keep up the good fight. Cheers.

  12. Giggleloop says:

    @NatePete – Eli Roth is a producer, but according to his Attack of the Show interview, he had very little to do with the actual production of the movie. He assisted in editing, & they went & did some reshoots with him involved, but the bulk of the film he had nothing to do with. Also, though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband said that there was “hardly any gore” in it at all, & that I could have handled going to see it (I also am NOT a fan of the Eli Roth horror movies).

  13. NatePete says:

    I think Eli Roth is associated with this flick (producer?), and he tends to be more gross out goreporn, than suspenseful/creepy/scary in my opinion. My questions is, does this film find a good balance? I hate horror films that are not suspenseful or give you goosebumps but instead are just blood baths.

    Great review though! I do love this genre and I though Emily Rose was not to bad.

  14. That’s a good point actually. It could be a good vehicle to bring this generation into good possession flicks. The ones we’ve had the past few years, (Emily Rose, a Haunting, etc.) have been pretty weak!

  15. Crunch says:

    Yeah, it’s about time to bring in a new generation gently into the possession genre of horror. I’ll go see this if the opportunity presents itself, but more probably have to wait for general home release, once again due to the three year old.