Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Last Exorcism (2010)
When I was looking through the 2010 films, The Last Exorcism (Release date: August 27th) stood out. Generally I should be all over this sort of film like a rash, but for some reason I just managed to miss it. I couldn’t really work out why it had slipped under my radar for a while but a couple of minutes of research gave it away. There are two features of The Last Exorcism that were almost guaranteed to make me avoid seeing it. The first is that it’s found footage. I know that with the likes of Troll Hunter, and the Rec films that found footage has had a bit of a resurgence and isn’t sucking ass with quite as much gusto (despite Romero’s best effort), but the thought of watching a hand-held camera shake around while the imbecile using it is too stupid to put it down to escape ordinarily puts me right off. However, more importantly, I saw that massive vortex of suck Eli Roth had his sticky mitts all over it. Roth is, to my thinking, one of the least talented individuals to ever be granted the right to make films. Every time I see his name I just instantly avoid watching the film, as I know that what I’m about to see will be asinine, juvenile, pathetic, irritating, and slightly less scary than the average episode of Sesame Street.
Does not contain luminous green projectile vomit, but instead contains quite impressive contortions and spoilers below.
Much to my surprise, this is actually quite a good film. It helps that it’s a clever premise, and it does ask big questions about faith and whatnot, but I’m honestly quite surprised that nobody in these secular times had done a film on this premise before. It does, admittedly, owe a huge debt to The Exorcist, but any film dealing with Demonic Possession as its main threat will do, but, nevertheless, there’s enough of a twist on the theme here to make The Last Exorcism a worthy entry in the genre in its own right.
The Last Exorcism follows a documentary crew (Iris Bahr is front of camera), as they film Father Cotton Marcus’s (Patrick Fabian) last exorcism. He’s a jaded Baptist preacher with a flair for showmanship who has performed exorcisms for his whole career, and has recently not only lost his faith, but come to believe that the exorcisms he performs do more harm to the children than good. As a result, he randomly picks a girl, Nell (Ashley Bell), and aims to show the camera crew that the whole farrago is little more than an elaborate fraud and very often prevents the children from getting the help that they need. Upon arrival at the Sweetzer farm, he performs his usual smoke and mirrors charade, but poor Nell doesn’t improve. If anything, actually, she gets worse.
The layers are stripped away, and the rural misery of Nell’s life is thrown bare (borderline autistic, molested by father, isolated etc), and gradually Cotton is coerced into performing another exorcism. This time, he thinks (awful piece of writing this) that he’s got to the truth and managed to catch her in a lie, which prompts her to reveal that she’s up the spout. Unfortunately, the boy she’s allegedly pregnant by is a raving homosexual, and it’s therefore highly unlikely that she’s telling the truth. Cotton and the crew return, and the whole film goes utterly Wicker Man in the last 10 minutes.
The acting here, much to my amazement, is really first class. Fabian is brilliant as Cotton, particularly in the opening scenes with his congregation when he puts in a sterling performance. He’s half faux-sympathy and half odious charm, but it’s when the latter sections of the film come in that he really earns his stripes. Cotton is completely without faith, he’s performed too many fake exorcisms, and seen too much open delusion for him to hang on to his faith in God- because faith in God requires faith in the Devil and his experiences tell him that Satan does not exist. When the climax of the film comes, and he has to rediscover his lost belief, Fabian steps up a gear- the relief when he thinks he’s caught Nell in a lie is palpable, and you can almost see him withdraw into his comfort zone with a happy sigh. However, the star turn, and in a fair world it would be career making, is from Bell as Nell. Performing her own contortions (she’s downright limber, this lass) she effortlessly skates through the various mood swings and personality changes that Nell undergoes. This is a performance full of pyrotechnics, and there are numerous scenes where she is very, very hard to watch indeed, for all the right reasons.
With acting of this calibre, it’s a damned pity that the writing doesn’t hold up as well. The opening scenes with Cotton talking gibberish to his congregation are brilliantly scripted, and the scenes up to the climactic exorcism work exceptionally well. Unfortunately the film takes a screaming nosedive at script level into the crapper, and you can feel the exact moment it happens: it’s when he visits the local priest. This conversation is pointless and irrelevant, but annoyingly only exists so that Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland can write themselves out of a corner. Annoyingly, Pastor Manley is a character of major importance to the eventual dénouement, so to add him as almost a throwaway feels like they’re trying to hard to bluff the audience. It doesn’t work, and I called the ending as soon as I saw the fat git. Furthermore, there’s an enormous plot hole in the final exorcism that hurts the film hugely. Nell asks Cotton if he wants “a blowing job”, which he picks up on as proof that she is faking the possession as the demon would surely know that it’s a “blow” job. His argument is that she’s 16 and homeschooled, but this doesn’t hold water as the film has already gone to lengths to point out that while she is homeschooled she isn’t isolated. Therefore, I would expect the girl to know that fairly common expression.
Nevertheless, this isn’t the main problem. There are two problems that are far more critical to the film. The first is the fact that our main characters are, and there’s no way of putting this gently, morons. They have untold chances to get out of the situation, and each time they work in a way that’s utterly counter-intuitive and only to further the plot. The most obvious example I can think of is them physically turning the car round on the basis of having spotted the flimsiest clue in horror movie history to go back to the farm. This is shoddy writing, on any level. Plot should follow character, not the other way round.
The final problem, and this is the damning one, is the finale. The natural end of the film is the exorcism, but found footage requires that our protagonists die. Otherwise it isn’t found footage. To meet the requirements of the genre, the film crushes a ridiculous and utterly lame scene on to the end. It also pulls an annoying Scooby-Doo reveal of the bad guy that is almost staggering in its sheer pointlessness. The big problem here is that it’s too condensed, it isn’t like the finale of Kill List, which makes sense, and has been foreshadowed in the film, rather it comes utterly out of the blue and just, frankly, fucking sucks. This is aggravating, because it undoes a lot of the work that the rest of the film, particularly the excellent first third does.
Overall, The Last Exorcism is a surprisingly good film and one I recommend. It’s so, so close to being an excellent film and I really resent that idiotic ending. There’s plenty to admire here, and as a result I’m going to give it 2.5 contortionists out of a possible 4. It’s honestly a damned shame about the finale, as this was looking like a very solid 3 to 3.5 film before they stuffed the sheer stupidity and unpleasantness in.
Interestingly, the poster I used at the top of this review was banned in the UK for blasphemy. That’s both very funny and kind of sad.
Until next time,
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny
- 2007- Knocked Up
- 2006- Volver
- 2005- Red Eye
- 2004- Dead Clowns
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
- 2002- Talk to Her
- 2001- Jeeper’s Creepers
- 2000- Gossip
- 1999- All About My Mother
- 1998- The X-Files
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
- 1996- The Last Supper
- 1995- The Usual Suspects
- 1994- The Color of Night
- 1993- Surf Ninjas
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume
- 1990- Wild at Heart
- 1989- Bull Durham
- 1988- Crossing Delancey
- 1987- The Big Easy
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma