May 14, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "The Last Exorcism"

The Last Exorcism
starring Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum, and Ashley Bell
directed by Daniel Stamm
written by Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Alliance Films (2010)

This film isn't as good as The Exorcist--fine, but I don't think it's trying to be, so let's put that little gripe to bed.

When it comes to the fake-documentary style movies, it takes some slick work to get me to enjoy the story. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity did it well, in my opinion--not to mention District 9--while I absolutely hated Cloverfield, and I didn't much care for Quarantine, either. One of the keys to a good movie that uses the conceit of a documentary style is creating characters that the audience will root for, will actually care about. The Last Exorcism accomplishes this remarkably well, I thought.

If you haven't seen it, the plot is fairly simple. A preacher (Fabian), brought up from childhood to be one, no longer has faith, especially in the ways of exorcisms. But, he has grown weary of his profession, lost his faith--and his son--and wants to expose exorcisms as frauds, which is why he hires a two-person documentary crew to join him on his next exorcism. What he decides will be his last exorcism before leaving the church altogether.

A teenage girl named in Louisiana is suspected to be possessed by a demon, as she has been behaving strangely and livestock has been slaughtered on the isolated farm. The father is a Christian fundamentalist to a bizarre degree, shunning even the local church for not being religious enough, and the brother is harboring resentment towards religion, his alcoholic father, and all outsiders. And Ashley, she's just as polite and cute as a button. The pastor goes through the motions and shows the camera crew how he exploits the family and tricks them with into thinking he has excised the supposed demon.

It goes off without a hitch, he gets paid, the camera crew gets some great footage, and they're on their merry way into the sunset. But, the girl winds up at their motel in the middle of the night in a catatonic state--with no knowledge of where they were staying or how she walked five miles to get there. After that, things start to escalate and the pastor and the camera crew suspect there is something more sinister going on at the house, possibly involving the father.

There is a good amount of tension through most of the movie, which plays well as two possible scenarios are posited. Either the girl is psychologically damaged, repressing some traumatic events involving her father, or maybe she really is possessed.

The acting is good, a bit tinny in spots, but nothing is done over the top with regards the performances, I thought. Special effects are minimal, keeping things feeling very real and organic. The camera work gets a bit distracting in spots with the hurky-jerky stuff, but nothing close to nausea inducing like other movies. There are moments when they are scrambling around in the dark with only the light atop the camera to guide them, and those are somewhat annoying, but forgivable.

A good, little horror movie that I think got a bit too much grief from the anti-Eli Roth crowd. If you are in the mood for a demonic possession movie, and want something other than the mainstays, I'd recommend giving this one a chance.

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