The Last Exorcism (2010)

You know what the devil’s problem is? Marketing.

Christianity tells us that God and the devil are locked in a never-ending soul collecting contest – not unlike a game of spiritual Pokémon. I can’t help but think the devil would fare better if he did a bit of market research. Nobody wants to spend eternity burning in a lake of fire, but a beach resort with year-round tanning doesn’t sound so bad. I don’t understand why Hell isn’t a little more tourist-friendly. If the devil got rid of the whole perpetual torture and gnashing of the teeth stuff, who’s to say more people wouldn’t volunteer to head downstairs when their lives are over? El diablo may be really into having his skin peeled off and eaten by scorpions until the end of time, but most people aren’t. Only a crappy businessman builds an establishment that caters more to his needs than those of his guests.

The lord would appreciate better handwriting, my son.

The story: Cotton Marcus is a popular Baton Rouge preacher with a beautiful family and a devout congregation. He bolsters his followers’ faith with his classic evangelical style and impressive showmanship, complete with sleight-of-hand tricks and theatre-grade special effects. He even gets called on from time to time to perform ritual exorcisms, for money of course. As he says, “the Church doesn’t run on love.”

After the difficult birth of his second child, though, Cotton began to question his role in the Church. The final straw came when he learned of a boy with autism who was suffocated by an ignorant country preacher attempting to exorcise the child’s illness. Cotton decides that to truly do the lord’s work, he has to expose the practice of exorcism for the sham it is. To that end, he allows a documentary crew to follow him on his final exorcism so that anyone who sees the footage will never be taken in by similar chicanery. Cotton randomly selects a likely candidate from a pile of letters and heads off to do his thing. He should have chosen more carefully.

You feeling anything? I'm not feeling anything.

Biggest letdown: “FUCK. Really?” That’s what I said about halfway through the third act of this movie. Right up to that point I was consistently engaged and more than a few times genuinely scared. I’m not much for religious horror or institutionalized superstition in general, but something about a malevolent force inhabiting the body of a child strikes me as incredibly disturbing. This movie portrayed the possession with great subtlety, walking the line between rationally explainable and obviously paranormal, straight to a nice mini-climax. But instead of accelerating to the finish, Last Exorcism eases off the gas to make room for a bullshit false ending that precisely zero percent of viewers will fall for. And when we get to the real conclusion, it’s so excessive and illogical it becomes laughable. I can’t think of a more accurate definition of a letdown than a movie that expertly sets its hook, methodically reels you in, and then, literally at the last minute, farts right in your face.

I feel the same way.

Why you should watch: The final few scenes destroyed me, but maybe you won’t find them so offensive. Even if the ending does make you want to tear your hair out, it’s hard not to get caught by a few of the nastier scares as the handheld camera negotiates its way through the creaky old house.

So you never let her out of the house? Why would I think that was weird?

In a movie with such a small main cast, everyone has to carry their weight. Sadly the woman playing possessed Nell is downright awful. She’s supposed to be 16 but looks like she’s 40. Even with her obviously advanced age she performs no better than a middling child actor. Mercifully Patrick Fabian is just fantastic as Reverend Marcus. He’s at his best in the opening scenes when he plays his emphatic preacher routine for laughs, winking at the camera and betting the sound girl he can work banana bread into a sermon without missing an “Amen”.

I refuse to make a menstruation joke. Period.

As great as Fabian is – his charm and gravity really do carry the show – the scene-stealer is Caleb Jones, who plays Nell’s creepy brother. His role is minor but when he’s on-screen it’s hard to look anywhere else.

No joke, this kid is gonna be a star.

Memorable Moment: I don’t know that the found footage convention always makes the terror of a movie more immediate, but in this case it worked pretty well. My favorite moment was when Cotton and the cameraman hear two voices coming from Nell’s room late at night. They open the door to find only Nell, sitting quietly on her bed in the same position they left her in hours before. They ask who she was talking to. “No one,” she answers, never shifting her blank stare from the wall. When Cotton starts to close the door, Nell turns her gaze toward the camera, her lips barely beginning to curl into a smile just as the door clicks shut.

Choice quote: “Can’t fight the devil without the armor. Granted, it’s linen, but it’s hot down here.”

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6 Responses to “The Last Exorcism (2010)”

  1. God was doing some major shit-stirring on the ancient social media networks, and Satan’s still trying to recover.

  2. […] The Last Exorcism – LIAR. […]

  3. […] The Last Exorcism – LIAR. […]

  4. […] U.S. version, Quarantine) and Cloverfield. I’ve done a few of them this year (TrollHunter, Last Exorcism), but the idea of a turning the premise for any found footage movie into a franchise strikes me as […]

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