In an all too familiar fashion, we get yet another PG-13 exorcism movie revolving around a young girl in a, yup you guessed it, white gown, who is believed to be possessed by a demon. If that didn’t elicit a yawn then wait, there’s more. Director Daniel Stamm attempts to spice things up by shooting the whole thing documentary style. What we have here folks is a recipe for disaster.
The Last Exorcism is not only the worst movie of the summer but one of the worst films I’ve seen in a long time. This film is bad, very bad. It really doesn’t offer much and the little good that it does have is completely overshadowed by the absolutely asinine ending.
Our setup is as follows. The film follows a preacher named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) who up until this point has preformed exorcisms for many people claiming to be possessed. The thing is though that Cotton is the kind of guy who doesn’t believe in demons or possession but is still happy to take your money if you need an exorcism performed. I guess you could call him a bit of a scum bag.
Recently, he had a change of heart and he wants to make a documentary exposing the fraud behind exorcisms. He hires a crew to accompany him on one last exorcism in hopes to film the ritual and show how it’s a scam. “I want to expose the exorcisms for the scam that they are,” he says.
Cotton picks a young girl named Nell (Ashley Bell) to be his last. Nell’s father (Louis Herthum) has written Cotton a letter explaining that they need help and that he thinks Nell may be possessed by a demon.
Everything goes according to plan at first. Cotton arrives, does his usual shtick and it seems as if the girl has been healed. It’s not until shortly after, when Nell shows up at his hotel in a catatonic state and exhibiting strange behavior that Cotton realizes there is something very wrong with her. Throw in an awkward sexual abuse subplot and some shady dealings at a nearby church and Cotton decides to stay and investigate further.
As I said before, the whole thing is done in a faux documentary style with a camera that’s shaky enough to make you feel sick at some parts. To be honest, I don’t dig the ‘fake documentary’ gimmick. I didn’t like it in The Blair Witch Project, [Rec] or in Paranormal Activity, I think it’s stupid and it actually takes away from a film.
While Cloverfield actually turned out fine, most films that implement this style just don’t work for me. When The Blair Witch Project did it at least it was original and fresh, I didn’t like it but I’ll give them credit. Nowadays it has been done to death and it seriously needs to stop. With these types of movies, you also always have to wonder why the cameraman always keeps filming right through the most horrific moments. When the shit hits the fan wouldn’t the cameraman forget about his job and just run like hell?
Another reason I don’t like when filmmakers do this, especially in the case of The Last Exorcism, is because Stamm uses his documentary style gimmick to make excuses for his PG-13 rating. When the violence is only implied and not exactly seen, it’s always because the camera shakes too much or becomes too blurry for us to actually see what’s going on. In a film not shot in documentary style, he probably couldn’t have gotten away with this and would have probably gone for the R rating.
For example, when we see Nell going to kill an animal, we see the animal sitting there and we see Nell approaching it. As she gets closer we get a quick scream and the camera (being held by Nell at this point) goes all blurry. It shakes and rolls around so much that we really have no idea what we’re seeing. We get nothing more than some extremely blurry images and some quick flashes of blood spurting onto the camera but that’s it.
I’m not saying I’d particularly want to see a 16 year old girl kill an animal, I’m just saying Stamm implements these types of shenanigans into the film on more than one occasion and it gets annoying. Due to the fact that we never see anything that graphic or scary, the film just kind of feels lame. In The Exorcist, we got an R rated exorcism film. The filmmakers had way more to work with and they were able to craft a truly freaky film. Between the PG-13 rating and the ‘documentary style’ Stamm uses, almost everything that is deemed too much for the kiddies under 13, is implied rather than shown.
To make matters even worse, Stamm seems to be confused about how to film a movie like this. If you’re filming a movie in the ‘fake documentary’ style, you’re not supposed to have music in your soundtrack, multiple camera angles or scenes where a character who is clearly out of the camera’s range, can still be heard. It makes the film come off as confused and it’s a bit jarring at times.
On an acting front, the film isn’t THAT bad and the two leads manage to pull it off. Patrick Fabian does a pretty good job, easily sliding into the role of Cotton Marcus. He plays the role well and comes off as believable for the most part. He’s charismatic and charming and he is able to carry the film appropriately. Cotton is an interesting character and Fabian does some good work with the role.
Ashley Bell (who strangely resembles Michael Cera) is no Linda Blair but she does a somewhat acceptable job. She has a couple scenes that call her acting into question but in the end, she is able to deliver. A bit more experience would have helped her but she is good enough for the role.
Behind the camera, Stamm sets up the film quite nicely at the start. He gives us an intriguing premise and creates a good atmosphere, for a while at least. There’s just one problem. He moves things along very slowly, it takes absolutely forever to get things going and that’s pretty bad considering it’s only a 90 minute movie. There also isn’t anything new here.
If you’ve ever seen an exorcism movie you know exactly what’s going to happen, Stamm doesn’t do anything fresh or original. Nell wanders around with creepy looks on her face, she kills animals, she contorts her body into strange positions etc. It’s all textbook stuff. As the story goes on it simply becomes less engaging due to the lack of surprise, tension and scares. To put it simply, for a lot of the movie, nothing really happens.
By the time we get to what is supposed to be the climax of the film, Stamm’s shenanigans have gone too far. He saves his most shocking stuff for last but it feels so forced that it comes off as completely ridiculous. When it comes to the ending, I’ve never seen anything more ill contrived. The ending is nothing more than an incredible hodgepodge of numerous bad ideas all coming together at once. I can promise you that even if you enjoyed the film up to the ending, the ending will ruin it for you and leave you with a bad reaction to the film. It is completely ludicrous.
To be perfectly honest, the film just didn’t offer a whole lot. It didn’t really bring anything new to the genre and I found myself feeling bored and uninterested for most of the film. It got worse as it went on and there wasn’t really anything here to redeem it. Fabian and Bell are stuck in a film where nothing really adds up and the whole thing just turns out to be a mess.
Stamm waits too long to deliver the action and when he does, it is exactly what you’re expecting to see. The ending is preposterous and due to most of the violence and shocking material either being implied or done off screen, it never really feels scary. By creating a somewhat spooky atmosphere, Stamm does nab us with a few cheap jump scenes but aside from that, it never feels frightening and there’s never a real sense of tension or unease.
Perhaps the exorcism genre is finished, it has been done over and over again and really, no one has been able to do it as well as The Exorcist. Perhaps it’s just time to give up. At the end of the day, The Last Exorcism gives us nothing more than a confused script, a ridiculous ending and for the most part, a pretty boring movie. I really hope that this is the last exorcism I’ll have to see on film.
The Last Exorcism is completely boring, devoid of any scares, tension or unease and has one of the worst endings ever. Avoid at all costs.