Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Written by: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Cast: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones
Reverend Cotton Marcus has had his fill of being a fraud.
A life-long evangelical minister, Marcus has conducted numerous exorcisms all in the good name of making money. "The Church doesn't run on love," he says with a smile, referring to the fact that the practice is his primary income. But his disillusionment has peaked and brought about a need to repent; Marcus has agreed to allow a documentary team film his fraud in action in order to blow the cover on the business of evangelical exorcisms.
Marcus randomly picks the family he'll work with by opening the first letter on top of the pile on his desk. This letter leads him to a farmer in a very rural area of Louisiana, who swears his daughter Nell has become possessed by a demonic power and is causing the death of his livestock and just may do worse. Reverend Marcus slips into character with practiced ease, and goes about committing his fraud in a skilled and admittedly entertaining manner. The man is good. However, events start to progress in unexpected directions, and Nell shows signs of something that Marcus has never ever seen in his petty and unethical career – a potentially real and true possession by a major demonic power.
This is the big question of the movie, and – just like in real life – no one should expect to go away with any answers. Is Nell possessed by a demon from the hoary pit of infernal damnation, or is she just seriously troubled? I have no idea, but I do know that the circumstances manage to get significantly creepy and definitely hair-raising, at least before the film crumbles into its final reveal of silliness.
The entire initial setup is brilliantly done. What we're seeing here is a documentary, exposing something that certainly has occasion to occur in the world. Similarly, the acting throughout the film is skilled stuff. Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell are both magnificent in their roles of the troubled minister and young possessed Nell, and Caleb Landry Jones is perfect in as Nell's shady brother. The casting was simply on-the-nose and was very effective in setting the stage for an intriguing investigative documentary.
Similarly, many of the scares are expertly done. Nell melts down in a cataclysmic fashion, and suddenly it seems a bit of hell is creeping out of the shadows of the small rural farm. These scenes are very suspenseful and will have some audience members on the edge of their seats. The interesting thing is that Nell is never shown doing anything truly impossible – rather only merely highly unlikely. This allows the film to skirt the line and not provide an obvious answer on whether Nell is truly possessed or simply very, very disturbed.
On this note I would like to draw an exception to a certain poster being tossed about for this film featuring Nell crouching impossibly in the high corner of a ceiling, denying all known understanding of gravity and physics. This is obviously not possible, and would have answered the question of whether she was really serving as a halfway home for a lost demon or not. This scene never occurs, at all, in the movie. Wall crawling is not within Nell's demonstrable powers, and this shot is simply the result of some rather misguided marketing that took things too far. There is a different poster of her bending over backwards in a seemingly impossible way (this is the poster shown above) - and this absolutely is in the film. The interesting thing about this trick is - it is not CGI. Actress Ashley Bell is amazingly double jointed and pulled this trick off all by herself. I wish I could do that at parties. Great stuff.
While The Last Exorcism has so much going for it, it still trips and stumbles in several ways. Things get seriously hairy out at the farm, so much that any reasonable person would be grabbing the cell phone to call the local police. However, our documentary film crew never does this, nor is it even discussed. They don't even try the "the cell phone has no reception!" trick, which, while trite, is better than just pretending cell phones don't exist. They entirely ignore the fact that the government provides a law enforcement agency, available on call, which will come out and stop shotgun toting madmen and psychotic teenage girls – all for free!
Another fracture to the suspension of disbelief is in the music. The score of the film is well done, rather subtle, and it only kicks in during the dark and scary bits. It does effectively accentuate the tension, which is what it is supposed to do – but then, why is it there at all? The Last Exorcism falls into the "lost footage" category of pseudo-documentary horror films, and supposedly hasn't been edited. So, who found the tape, and then edited in scary music? It just doesn't make any sense.
The strongest blow against it is the ending. It goes in a direction that few (if any) will expect, and most won't expect it because it's ridiculous. It's hard to expect the ridiculous. It's a punch-line verging on the unintentionally funny rather than truly scary. While it did make me giggle - and I enjoy a good giggle as much as anyone else - its silliness makes a lark of the beautiful setup that went down in the first two acts.
The Last Exorcism is PG-13 and, said flaws aside for the moment, is a good example of how to make an entertaining film with such a restricted rating. There are not many well done PG-13 horror films, as the restrictions of the rating are significant enough to rip the scary out of most movies. For every well done PG-13 film, such as The Ring or Drag Me to Hell, there is at least another dozen films that absolutely suck. Even with its flaws, The Last Exorcism should be sorted with other effective PG-13 films for the brilliant setup and scares of its first two acts.
The Last Exorcism is a great film hiding in an oversized clown suit of a bad last act punch-line. It's a shame that a little more thought wasn't spent on the flaws described, but the fact remains this is still a film that has some effective scares that are likely to entertain quite a few. It does feature great acting, perfect casting, and some high tension scary moments – just be prepared for the last act when the clowns wheel in on their unicycles to make animal balloons out of old intestines and kidneys.
I'm sorry to say that I have a problem with this review, mostly because it isn't a review so much as an overly-detailed synopsis with the addition of commentary. There should have been a *spoiler alert* warning in the first paragraph so that I could have stopped reading. Now I feel like there's no point in going to see the movie- not because the review made it sound unappealing- but because I don't need to anymore.
It's a fine line to walk when critiquing a movie because you want to be able to support the assertions that you make about it's merits and flaws to show that they are justifiable while still withholding enough detail to keep the reader in the dark. I'm sure that all of the claims the reviewer made about this film are true, I just think that they should have kept a few of those claims to themselves.
I also think that it's very difficult for a reviewer to successfully discuss the ending of a film. Almost any info about how a movie ends is too much. Who really wants to hear from someone that there's a twist or that it's sad or even that it's lame/bad before going and watching it for one's self? If you aren't 100% sure that what you plan to say won't take away from someone else experiencing the film then err on the side of caution and just don't say it.
I would very much like the author, who is clearly very talented, to tone it down a bit and focus more on analyzing the aspects of the film and not giving so much away. I'd hate to have to stop reading the reviews over something like this.
"Never fall for a super-hero, a super-villain, or a backup dancer- in that order."
The ending of the film is totally unexpected. I will say that much. Having seen the film and having read this review, I don't think you'll have any idea what you're in store for.
On another note, I enjoyed Ashley Bell's performance so much that I would recommend to you to see it just to see her in the role. It's astonishing that there is no makeup on her at any time and no computer manipulation, but I could swear it seems like there must be. But it is all her and her muscle manipulation and character creation. Really neat to watch.
"Another great thing about being 70,000 light years away from the nearest Starfleet vessel is that once we finally get back to Earth, we can makeup bullshit stories. Off the top of my head: 'We met Amelia Earhart,' 'We singlehandedly eliminated most of the Borg fleet' or 'Paris and I turned into giant pink lizards and mated.'"
It is, and I think it still is. I do apologize if some of my details were a bit too revealing, but I sincerely doubt anyone would be able to guess the direction this film takes at the end of it just from this review. I do believe that saying there is a 'twist' is not, in and of itself, a spoiler.
First, I just want to say that Tristan hit every single thing that I loved/disliked about this film, and wrote a last paragraph that was so funny and well-written that it made me laugh out loud. Well done!
OK, on to the next piece. Ms. Mordant, I know how frustrating it is when a review gives away too much, and you certainly have the right to feel that this review does that. I do, however, want to defend the right of any critic to include an analysis of a film's ending as part of a review, so long as the discussion doesn't give any plot points away (which this review does not do).
I heard Roger Ebert recently discussing the chief responsibility of a critic: to save viewers from wasting two hours of their lives watching a bad film, or, consequently, to encourage viewers to spend the same time watching a great film. A film's conclusion is a critical part of the whole; some would argue the most important, because it is what the audience is left with. Films aren't like episodic television; they are complete stories, and it is the critic's job to evaluate a film in its entirety. I can think of many films that were saved by a great ending or sunk by a lousy one. Again, I am not at all saying that endings should be given away; I'm just saying that if an ending is especially good or poor, a critic can certainly say as much because it's an integral part of the success of the whole picture.
Tristan is not alone in discussing the failure of this particular film's conclusion. Most reviews I've read have done the same. None of them, including Tristan, give away WHAT happens; they simply point out that the conclusion doesn't fit and hurts the overall success of the film. Since a critic's job is to evaluate a film in its entirety, this is a fair and necessary part of their work.
I heard Roger Ebert recently discussing the chief responsibility of a critic: to save viewers from wasting two hours of their lives watching a bad film, or, consequently, to encourage viewers to spend the same time watching a great film. .
I love that man. I think his point is apt and is something every film critic should keep in mind when writing reviews.
Thank you for your explanation and support of Tristan's critique: you had several excellent points about both his and film reviews in general that I need to keep in mind. I also appreciate you making those points without verbally ripping me to shreds like I'm used to in most other forums.
Tristan: I owe you an apology. I've re-read your review as well as others that I found online and agree that my complaint really isn't valid. And I really enjoy your writing too
I'll try to tone down the bitch-factor from now on
"Never fall for a super-hero, a super-villain, or a backup dancer- in that order."