Monday, October 31, 2011


The Last Exorcism
August 27, 2010
87 minutes
United States (English)

Directed by Daniel Stamm
Written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland

"The Last Exorcism" is a compelling concept with some very creepy sequences. By the second act you'll be invested in wanting to know how it will all play out. It would be a worthy film for any horror fan's library if it weren't for the downright betrayal of an ending.

Last Halloween weekend my lady and I went to the local dollar theater to catch the faux-documentary, "The Last Exorcism." The premise is fascinating. Reverend Cotton Marcus (played by the capable Patrick Fabian) of Baton Rouge, LA questions his own beliefs. He has a disabled son and begins to put more stock in science. He agrees to let a group of filmmakers document him performing an exorcism and plans to use the products as a means to prove such practices are fraudulent. Within minutes I was hooked to this lead character.

Reverend Marcus chooses to take the exorcism request of a humble yet anxious farmer (played with subtlety by Louis Herthum) who's daughter is said to be possessed by a demon. The crew and acting-exorcist travel to their lovely home in the woods and it only continues to grow in peculiarity. We observe the Reverend's tricks (such as planted speakers and a trick crucifix that can emit smoke when he desires). He begins to successfully fool the family, but are we entirely convinced?

The film largely hinges on the performance of this daughter, especially during her possessions. Ashley Bell is incredible in the role and does some very unnatural things that would unsettle even Stephen King. There is a nighttime sequence that is among the most terrifying I've encounter in films. It was near this moment when Nancy shared thoughts of leaving the film. I was rather surprised, especially since she claims to be a horror buff. I was adamant about staying and seeing it to the end, though I suppose if she absolutely insisted we would have left. Ultimately she decided to stay and I think we are both glad we did.

Questions begin to emerge, such as what happened to the family's mother, why is the brother so freakin' weird, and what secret is the father hiding. Most importantly, is the girl truly possessed and how one Earth is a exorcist who is "faking it" ever going to fight this fight? We see some of the things and Reverend Marcus begins to as well. There is a very memorable scene where the film slows down and shows us a scene of the man weighing his thoughts. He is wrestling his beliefs. The very event he thought would help him leave the faith is forcing him to consider it more than he ever has before. At this point I was just hoping this film wouldn't fail me, it was fast becoming a modern horror classic.

Things start to fall apart in the third act and in the last ten minutes they completely unravel in a bewildering manner. I hated the ending.

As with many strong reactions to films, I often scour the IMDb message boards to see how others reacting to my gripe. I found a thread entitled "the last ten minutes" and knew I would hear from others there. IMDb user Kar-lito summed it up nicely: "I was actually getting into the movie...because it seemed grounded enough in reality...was she possessed vs. suffering psychotic episodes due to abuse? It was interesting, creepy and entertaining... Then the ending [...]." That is where I will stop quoting him to avoid spoiler territory. He is right on the money.

"The Last Exorcism" is currently streaming on Netflix Instant. I recommend it with a major asterisk, stop it at about the 78-minute mark and wonder how it would end. Whatever you fathom up will be better than what writers Botko and Gurland end up feeding us. (Okay, okay... You probably do need to see it all. If anything at least to count you have seen the full film, but I can almost guarantee you will feel disappointment.) Honestly, it feels like they threw in the towel in the script's final pages. "We don't know how to end this so lets just go crazy!" This rarely works. I felt it betrayed everything that had come before it. It was a major disappointment for what was shaping up to be an incredible film. All in all, I still regard the first half as greatness, but you can bet that when I ever get around to my "Top Ten Worst Endings" list there will be a throne for "The Last Exorcism" right next Danny Boyle's "Sunshine."

(Note: "The Last Exorcism" was a roaring success, financially speaking anyway, crtically speaking, not so much. The film cost about $2 million to make and made over $40 million in the box office alone. It probably shouldn't surprise anyone that a sequel is in the works. Yeah, clearly this was not the last exorcism.)

"Down here, if you ask five people about a demon story, they'll give you ten demon stories."
- Cotton Marcus


CONTENT: disturbing and frightening scenes, some instances of intense violence, sexual references

Updated 3/1/13

1 comment:

Galyn said...

I'm sorry for Roger Ebert.