Okay, let me begin by stating a few facts about my own stance on some factors involved with this movie. First of all, I have no problem with hand-held “shaky-cam” flicks if done well: I love The Blair Witch Project and [*Rec] and really like Noroi (highly recommended to those who’ve yet to see it). Secondly, I have no problem with Eli Roth (who, despite the way some of the advertising is worded, only acted as producer/mega-hypemeister while Daniel Stamm directed). Thirdly, I do like a good con movie. Last, but by no means least, I don’t see anything wrong with a movie making money before it’s even released (thanks to the names involved and pre-agreed publicity commitments). IF the movie is good. Sadly, The Last Exorcism is one of the worst modern, hyped-up, horror movies I have ever sat through. And that’s saying something.
We start the movie by meeting Cotton Marcus (a good turn from Patrick Fabian), a conman who has been preaching since he was a young boy but who has lost his faith since the near-death of his son, who is now hearing-impaired. Marcus is so good at what he does that he can deliver a sermon that includes a recipe for banana bread. With a crew filming him, he agrees to open some mail and to follow where the letter takes him in an attempt to expose many of the tricks and fraudulent ways that people can use to convince others that they’re performing an exorcism. He ends up at a Louisiana farm, trying to help young Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) as her distraught father and brother stand by, helpless. But as Cotton uses his bag of tricks things start to get quite a bit more intense. Young Nell couldn’t ACTUALLY be possessed, could she?
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, The Last Exorcism is essentially a con movie with some horror trappings. Cotton Marcus is a self-confessed trickster who can talk people into giving him their hind teeth. In fact, most (if not all) of the scares in the first half of the movie are signposted in advance as tricks and fake-outs which simply drains any effectiveness the movie wants to have in it’s build up to whatever finale it’s going to provide. Remember how chilling that door banging in the original version of The Haunting was? It just wouldn’t work if you’d watched someone set up some fancy gadget to make it happen in the previous scene.
To be fair, the first half of the movie also has a lot of smart little points to make about blind faith, manipulation and the psychology that can be used to convince people of good and/or evil influences in their lives. The acting is all okay (Fabian is very good, Bell is okay, Louis Herthum is pretty good as the worried father and Caleb Landry Jones is great as the brother who thinks he has Cotton’s number from the very beginning) and the script does well before falling down in the second half.
Unlike many other films of this type, this movie has a score and some other post-production work. If you watch the movie and think that’s strange then, without spoiling anything, just wait until the ending and make up your own mind as to the interpretation of events.
So, why did I dislike this movie so much? Well, it is mainly because of the second half. There is only one very good, genuinely unnerving moment (involving a challenge to someone to be quiet for ten seconds) and that’s all. The rest falls completely flat and also becomes pretty laughable in many respects. People have, apparently, complained that some twists and turns were unbelievable but that’s not really the case if you’ve taken in the details of the movie. It is, however, still a hugely unsatisfying and preposterous denouement to a film that had so much potential at the very beginning. Sadly, each subsequent scene drains more and more goodwill from the viewer as scares fail to appear (aside from the occasional cheap jump scare), the intelligence dwindles and you start to realise that maybe the biggest con was played on yourself just as you went to pay for your cinema ticket.
DIRECTOR: DANIEL STAMM
STARS: PATRICK FABIAN, ASHLEY BELL, LOUIS HERTHUM, CALEB LANDRY JONES
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX