Theatrical Review: The Last Exorcism

The Reverend Cotton Marcus is a man on a mission, and he believes in his own way that it is a mission for God. Marcus is a moderately successful preacher with his own showy and persuasive style. Since the birth of his son, suffering from defects, Marcus has lost his faith but still believes that he does perform a valuable service for people even though he’s way more pragmatic about how it relates to he and his family. Marcus has performed exorcisms in the past and he’s seen that others have performed exorcisms that have led to the death of their subjects. Now, Marcus is making a documentary film that will expose the secrets behind these exorcisms. He’s contacted by a man named Louis Sweetzer in rural Louisiana to help his daughter Nell, and is about to face more than he ever expected.

The Last Exorcism is a low-budget horror film from producers Eli Roth, Strike Entertainment and directed by Daniel Stamm. Now I’m not really familiar with either of Stamm’s other movies, but I’m definitely familiar with work coming from Roth and Strike Entertainment. Roth of course directed Cabin Fever and the Hostel films, all of which I enjoyed very much. Strike Entertainment was behind the Zack Snyder re-make of Dawn of the Dead and I hold that remake in the same high regard as the original. So having this producing crew behind The Last Exorcism had me looking forward to the movie. For the most part, I think it delivers, though I do have one small problem with it.

This film is shot in the same fake documentary style as movies like The Blair Witch Project, Quarantine and last year’s big smash, Paranormal Activity and right off the bat, I know that will be a big turn-off to a lot of viewers. Whether you see it as an over-used gimmick or you’re just turned off by the shaky hand-held camera style, if you’re turned off by this, then just avoid it at all costs. Personally though, I love this way of filmmaking. It throws you smack dab into the middle of things and doesn’t do anything uncomfortable in it’s set-up. It also doesn’t rely on overly flashy effects, and due to the hand-held camera work, forces you to rely more on your imagination for the real horror.

But, there is a problem within this presentation and it’s just by the fact that the creative team decided to use some minimal music in some scenes to both heighten and dull some of the moments. Now I can understand why they did this. If you check all sorts of movie messageboards, you can certainly see that some are turned off by this style. So, in my opinion, I can see the addition of music to be a tool used to say that this is more your traditional sort of movie rather than the fake documentary. I think it was a mistake to go that route though and the film as a whole would’ve been much more effective had they chosen to exorcise the music from it.

That’s my only gripe. The rest of this, I thought was very well-made for the style of film. It features a nice twist, that I certainly didn’t see coming, at the end. I thought that was a nice little throwback to some horror movies of the 70s. The best part though is the earnest performances from it’s cast.

Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus and he’s really good, sort of coming off to me as what you’d get if you crossed Jeff Daniels with Marjoe Gortner. A good portion of the start of the movie is used to put us in Cotton’s shoes and Fabian has a great charisma that made me want to join him on the road. I’ve also got to give high marks to both Ashley Bell who plays Nell Sweetzer and Louis Herthurm who plays her father, Louis Sweetzer. Bell is appropriately sweet and innocent until the moments of possession sinks in and then she’s just as appropriately creepy. Herthurm was the only cast member who I was familiar with, having seen him in all sorts of character parts in the past. He gets some real shining moments here and certainly has some believable conviction.

I did enjoy this, though as I said it loses some marks from me for it’s unnecessary use of music. As the credits started to roll, I overheard the couple sitting behind me making their comments. The woman really liked the movie while the man with her said “It’s cheesy.” Well, I just had to ask him why. And I know I took him by surprise with that, but still I was genuinely curious. He took a moment and said “It was fake.” to which I immediately asked “How could it be “real?” (though I admit it’s hard to emphasize the quote portion of that) and I didn’t get an answer. Again, I understand that, I was putting the guy on the spot and I can certainly understand if something like the inclusion of music added to that. I tend to think that he more wanted to see a more traditionally-produced horror film and was just turned off by this film’s obvious low-budget approach. I think that will be the case with most who do see this, but regardless, I still had a great time with it.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

29. August 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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