Original release: August 27th, and 2010
Running time: 87 minutes
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurlan
Cast: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr
We like to say seeing is believing, but when it comes to the supernatural we rarely ever believe what we see. It’s as if the maxim is completely thrown out of the window as our minds reject what’s before us and search for some way to rationalise what we’re experiencing. This can be said for the countless cases UFO sightings, unexplained miracles and demonic possessions that have plagued human existence since our earliest days. We see cases of them all the time, but we take it with a grain of salt even when they’re documented in the best possible ways.
With possessions, though we may reject the idea of it as something that can happen to us in the real world, we’re still drawn to the idea of it when its presented in fiction, but does it fare well when it’s transferred to the sub-genre of found footage film? The format seems to have worked for Paranormal Activity (2009) which has since spawned an entire franchise based around the simple concept, but just a year later in 2010, director Daniel Stamm brought us The Last Exorcism and it was ill received by critics and audiences, but still managed to produce a sequel in 2013.
The film stars Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus who’s made a career out of being a showman in front of his congregation since an early age. Using cheap magician’s tricks, Cotton helps restore people’s faith in God by giving them the show they believe they need and this also, occasionally, comes in the form of exorcisms. But having grown tired of the trickery and wanting to do God’s work in a more honest way, he decides to let a film crew document his latest fake exorcism so that he can expose himself and others like him.
Arriving at an isolated farm in the Deep South, he meets Nell (Ashley Bell), a once cheerful but now troubled teenage girl. Nell’s father believes she’s possessed by the devil and responsible for the slaughter of several of his livestock. Cotton goes ahead with the fake exorcism, accepting Nell’s father’s $500 payment. He pulls out all of his old tricks including smoking crucifix, boiling water effects, ghoulish sound recordings and event resorts to some string pulling to make things move around the girl’s bedroom in order to convince the family she’s once again a child of God and Satan’s.
Satisfied with his fake work, Cotton and film team return to their hotel rooms, but when Nell turns up in the middle of the night in a catatonic state they realise her condition is more serious than they first presumed. Could she be a victim of abuse or has Cotton finally stumbled onto an actual case of demonic possession? At first it’s hard to say as there’s evidence for both. It would be easy to diagnose Nell’s condition using science and psychology instead of the Bible and holy water, but in doing so, something could be missed.
The Last Exorcism’s humour is well written and juxtaposes nicely with the scares, of which there are a few. Very much like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and more recent movies that followed its documentary style, like Quarantine (2008) and The Fourth Kind (2009), there’s a lot of running around and shaky camera footage to get through. This wasn’t so much of a problem though, what was a problem was that The Last Exorcism never seemed to stand on its own and felt like a poor copy of the films it was paying homage to.
As far as the innocent-girl-who-might-be-possessed story, it’s become a rather stale cliché and films like The Reaping (2007) and of course the original Exorcist (1973) movie accomplished it far better with stronger writing and direction. Ashley Bell does however give a very good performance and credit must be given to her acrobatic skills for accomplishing those back bending, neck breaking scenes. Still, her performance alone is not enough to render The Last Exorcism a good movie, rather like Cotton it seems to be masquerading as something it’s not and ultimately won’t leave you with anything you haven’t seen before.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .