I went into the viewing experience of The Last Exorcism knowing it was a hybrid of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Paranormal Activity, with a dash of The Blair Witch Project for good measure. Eager with anticipation because of the subject material, I was looking forward to being riveted by fascination and horrified by the thought that demons might exist. I’m not scared easily by these types of films (slasher flicks scare me more), but the paranormal and the possibility of possession are fields of high interest for me. And Eli Roth… well, I’m in.
So off I went, alone, excited to embrace the fear and watch The Last Exorcism, a film about a first hand account of possession and exorcism. Judging by the trailer, I was thinking this could prove to be an even better film than its predecessors.
Pastor Cotton performs the first exorcism
It started off well, showing us the somewhat celebrity status of pastor/preacher Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian, who is the son of a preacher making a living in Louisiana. As a child, he was a preacher prodigy, learning Latin, scripture and doing the odd exorcism. Now he is a family man leading a somewhat idyllic, if financially burdened, existence with his wife and son. He still preaches to a faithful congregation, but his own faith in God isn’t what it used to be thanks to a family crisis involving the health of his son. He’s a reformed exorcist, sceptical about exorcism and all its trappings.
Thus he begins a crusade to expose exorcism for the fraud it is, which is the reason for the documentary he is making. He believes it is his mission to prove to the world that not only are exorcisms fake, they are also dangerous and can be life threatening. He plans to prove that people are willing to believe anything, and that a matter of possession is really just mind over matter. To prove this, he will perform an exorcism, his last exorcism, on film.
Things get real in the barn
The first part of the movie continues in this vein, and you can’t help but get this feeling of, “Oh boy, isn’t he going to be surprised!”. Even though Cotton comes across as a roadside charlatan filled with nonchalance, and having a cavalier disposition towards all things exorcism related — including desperate pleas for help — you can’t help but like him. He succeeds in lulling us into a false sense of belief that exorcisms are exactly what we think them to be: fraudulent. He even goes so far as to fill in his documentary crew on a few exorcist tricks of the trade (here we learn a valuable lesson: never trust your exorcist if he charges a fee). We’re reminded of that same doubt we feel after seeing a fortune teller. Can we trust what they have told us? With the supernatural and paranormal, you can never be too careful.
Cotton drives out to a very isolated farm in a small town in Lousiana. This backdrop lends complete believability as a place that could be a hotbed for paranormal phenomena and possession to occur. When Cotton meets Nell Sweetzer, played by Ashley Bell, he is struck by her innocent charm and sweetness. Could this really be the girl causing all the devilry? In fact, it is her father, who keeps Nell cloistered as if she is in a monastery. Her brother comes across as a wee bit of a psychopath and seems more sinister than the sweet Nell. But if it’s not Nell who‘s causing the horrible slaughtering of livestock on the farm, then why are her clothes covered in blood right after it happens? Nell can’t tell you because she has no memory of anything that happens. Another interesting fact is the death of Nell’s mother two years earlier. Is the near crippling grief the opportunity that the demon, if there is one, needed to get in? How can the demon possess the child of a family who is so devout? What is going on here? All of these are questions that arise as the story draws you in deeper. So far so good.
Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer is definitely disturbing
After a fake exorcism payed for by Nell’s father — we know it’s fake because Cotton has let us see what goes on behind the scenes while he’s “prepping” for the ritual — things start to get crazy, and the demon is revealed. But so are some other dark facts, and now we begin to wonder if this is a case of possession or just severe psychosis?
Desperate to save Nell, Cotton finds himself convinced to perform another exorcism, only this time he is dealing with the real thing. Or is he? The movie keeps you guessing, and except for the odd snippet of music which doesn’t quite fit, the pace feels urgent.
The demon revealed
The tension does keep building, and comes to a point where I thought, “This is going to be great!” But the ending was anti-climatic, too easily explained, and somewhat clumsy. Whereas The Exorcism of Emily Rose leaves you stricken by what you have witnessed, Paranormal Activity scares you with what you don’t see, and The Blair Witch Project was the first of it’s kind, The Last Exorcism wasn’t so much scary as it was predictable. It left me wanting so much more. Maybe I’m just immune to being frightened by this material because I’ve seen too many of these types of films. Maybe my superstition is tempered with a heavy dose of rationale, and my desire to know the truth makes me approach this subject matter with a detached logicality. In the end it was probably the PG-13 rating that posed a challenge, and for me, this movie was pretty tame. What The Last Exorcism will do is leave you perplexed and puzzled and a little disappointed that man really is just that evil.
Unfortunately, I have to say, wait until it comes out on DVD.