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.

Nell hadn’t learned to leave her pops’ Moonshine still alone.

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.

“This isn’t working. I’ve had my hands over your ears for ages, and I can still hear you screaming.”

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.

Bendy.

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.

They had a very hands on approach to underage boozing in the Deep South.

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.

Linda Blair, eat your heart out.

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.

Shit, and almost film ruining.

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,

Jarv

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

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

50 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Last Exorcism (2010)”

  1. Droid says :

    Haven’t seen it, for the reasons you hadn’t. Sounds like a missed opportunity. I hope the found footage genre continues to die out.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s actually quite good. More than worth a look.

      Agree with you about Found Footage. Despite Troll Hunter and the Rec Films it needs to die.

      • Droid says :

        By missed opportunity, I did mean for it to be considered really great. A botched ending ruins any film.

      • Jarv says :

        I totally agree with you, and this one is a real doozy of a fuck up. It’s incomprehensible, out of the blue, insulting, and done purely to wipe out our main characters. Dreadful, and I’ve docked it 1/2-1 chang as a result.

        The first 2/3 are really good as well.

  2. kloipy says :

    I agree with this review 100%. This movie really is much better than I would have ever expected it to be. But man that ending really sucks.
    What I was suprised at was that there are some genuine creepy moments in this film.

    1. When Nell shows up at Cotton’s hotel room

    2. When she is just hanging out on top of the dresser.

    Seriously if it would have ended about 5 to 10 minutes earlier it could have really been a great movie. I’m usually a proponent of the idea that the ending isn’t everything and shouldn’t ruin the experience before it, but man this ending really just kind of spits in the face of the story

    • Jarv says :

      The natural end is after they sit down and agree to get her psychiatric help after the exorcism. Everything that follows from that moment on is shit.

      • Jarv says :

        The most frightening sequence in the film is the cat murder- because spoiler

        I genuinely didn’t realise she had the camera,

        and it’s fucking nasty.

  3. Droid says :

    What the hell is “MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn”?

    • Jarv says :

      I got it the other day, it’s got Tim Thomerson, Kelly Preston and a few others in it. It’s a Charles Band film so should at least be good for a laugh. Unlike Dead Clowns.

  4. Bartleby says :

    Spot on review. I’d say it isnt a missed opportunity because it’s one of those films that works if you turn it off at a certain point, which means they nailed the opportunity, and then ruined it by going on.

    Now I have no proof of this, but I believe what we feared when we saw Roth’s name on it, happened anyway. Nothing in the film feels like it has his fingerprints on it, until that point, and I’ve read a few interviews that suggest that he’s proud because the ending was his idea.
    I just saw my favorite found footage movie. Will write it up soon. V/H/S. A good fun time.

    • Jarv says :

      Now I have no proof of this, but I believe what we feared when we saw Roth’s name on it, happened anyway. Nothing in the film feels like it has his fingerprints on it, until that point, and I’ve read a few interviews that suggest that he’s proud because the ending was his idea.

      That would explain it. The ending is so unpleasant, and so out of place that it reeks of his juvenile sensibilities.

      • Jarv says :

        Fuck me, Roth is stupid:

        Q: Do you have any interest in doing something that’s not horror or extreme?

        ER: Yeah.

        Q: Like what?

        ER: Well this isn’t extreme –

        Q: Well HOSTEL is.

        ER: I know, but this isn’t. You just asked if I wanted to –

        Q: No, outside of horror.

        You can almost hear the exasperation there.

      • Jarv says :

        Fuck. And his dickheadish remake of Funhouse is going ahead. In 3D.

        He’s such a cunt.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh, and got it:

        help him sculpt the last 20 minutes of the movie,

        Wanker. It was him.

  5. kloipy says :

    You know, depending on the right director (and definitley not Eli Roth) and again this comes from someone who is not a fan of 3D. I think a 3D version of The Funhouse could be a cool idea. If it was immersive it could be like a ride itself.

    • Jarv says :

      Yes, but do you want this to happen:

      I’m talking with Universal about that one. The Funhouse is a movie where the first half is brilliant. They set up these great characters, and then they pay off none of them. You have Marco the Magician sawing his daughter in half, the brothers who run the carnival and the funhouse setting. And then it’s all about this weird mutant thing. It should be about the kids getting killed in horrible ways, put in different contraptions in the funhouse and the final girl being strapped into the ride and sent into the tunnels to be confronted by terrifying tableaux of her dead friends. A smart remake could be so much fun. Kill the kids in fabulous ways and continually reuse the bodies by making them freaks in the freak museum, sew their eyes shut, waxworks. That’s the stuff I want to do in a remake of The Funhouse.”

      Eli “Talentless bag of cocks” Roth, 10th June 2009.

      • kloipy says :

        Ok, so no I do not want that

      • Jarv says :

        He’s making fucking Saw.

      • kloipy says :

        I know everyone hated Cabin Fever, but I actually thought it had moments of good, and I hoped he might evolve as a director. Then we got Hostel and HOstel 2. It’s sad that people say his good movie is the Thanksgiving trailer

      • Jarv says :

        Cabin Fever has moments, but Hostel is so so bad that it removed any chance of potential.

        You can also see a lot of his juvenile crap in Cabin Fever- the leg shaving leaping to mind.

      • Jarv says :

        Crap.

        This stood in for the switch, which I also haven’t seen.

        And Lovefilm are now sending it. Arse.

        I’ll write it up in case I have another go at this next year.

  6. Bartleby says :

    Roth really is a mess and a disappointmnet. He has eaten his own hype, similar to many other director trainwrecks we have shambling around these days.

    Its funny because nearly everyone realizes this, and most I know lament his hands were near anything as smart and interesting as this.

    • Jarv says :

      I don’t think Roth is a disappointment, but I do agree. He’s a shambles and a cunt.

      This film would have been exponentially better had he been nowhere near it.

  7. Bartleby says :

    that Funhouse quote is exactly what’s wrong with him. He has no understanding what works about the genre, and then he has the gall to say things like making it ‘smart and so much fun’. He’s another thing I partially blame Harry Knowles for foisting on us.

    • Jarv says :

      That’s exactly what I think. Funhouse was never an award winning movie, but it was fun and smarter than it pretended to be. Roth’s version would be awful.

      I also partially blame knowles for him.

  8. ThereWolf says :

    Good stuff, Jarv.

    Last Exorcism does have its moments but I was largely unimpressed. And it IS because of the shit ending I didn’t like it. I should probably reappraise the film now, especially knowing that Roth was responsible for the finale. I should’ve guessed really…

    I’m okay with ‘found footage’; as long as somebody can use it properly and turn out a decent film I’ve not got a problem.

    • Jarv says :

      My problem with most ff is that at some point I almost always end up screaming “put the fucking camera down twat” at the screen.

  9. Xiphos0311 says :

    oh christ this movie actually makes me mad. it was way better then it had any right to be with a few truly outstanding performances and set pieces and that ending just ruined it. Jerk offs they could have done almost anything else to end it and the movie would have been top notch but they chose the lame and trite ending instead, incompetent assholes.

    • Jarv says :

      Yup. Awful ending sinks film.

      I tried to rate it fairly, but was tempted to go much lower because of it. But it is such a good film up to that point- just turn it off when they’re driving away.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        The fact that the movie was actually good up until that detestable ending is what makes it so frustrating. It had an interesting protagonist, a good concept was the family playing Cotton while Cotton was playing them. Was she really possessed or insane because of what happened to her etc. Good acting and good writing up till the shit the bed, it’s Frustrating.

      • Jarv says :

        Hugely so.

        I wasn’t joking- the moment it goes into its tailspin is when they meet the pastor. He’s so integral to the finale, that you can almost call it as soon as you see him. That it then follows through with this garbage, and makes it more reprehensible- not to mention stupid and rushed is so, so aggravating.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        yeah I had warning alarms going off when the priest showed up.

      • Jarv says :

        The thing is, if it had ended after the exorcism with the priest appearing to do the psychiatric thing and just a wee bit of inappropriateness as Cotton realises he’s handed her over to a paedo then it would have been a great film.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Uh didn’t think of that one. Good idea.

      • Jarv says :

        It would have worked superbly. But no, Roth wanted his Demon birth/ Wicker Man shit.

  10. tombando says :

    Again, if its related toHarold, its going to Suck. This is better than Turdmen I take it?

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Much much better Tom. It’s really the last 5 minutes that totally screw the movie.

    • Jarv says :

      Lots better. So close to being a great movie.

      • kloipy says :

        Spoilers

        You know, i’d actually be ok with the ending if it turned out they were a cult doing a sacrifice BUT only if there was no actual demon show up. Like it was just a bunch of nutjobs in the woods, but the fact that they actually show the demon baby or whatever totally makes it a joke in the end

      • Jarv says :

        It’s not just that, it’s that he finds his faith, yells “Hallelujah” and runs into the fucking fire. Not to mention that the whole grubby business is over in about 5 minutes.

      • kloipy says :

        yeah, it’s a complete dismissal of the character they’ve been building the whole movie

    • Jarv says :

      To be fair, this isn’t related to the fat Ginger beast.

      Roth signed the two writers based on the premise, and then (fair play to him for this) whored it around promising to use his notoriety (I would say name) to help publicise it. As a result, he was able to raise $2m, only $200K of which was for marketing. It turned into by far the biggest hit of anything he’s been associated with.

      All this was done without Gingertown slobbering over it.

  11. Continentalop says :

    Fuck, that Funhouse quote is the worst thing I have read in a while. It is like he wants to make the Gallagher of horror movies, and make it all about prop comedy kills.

    Hooper’s Funhouse is more about the carny world than his film sounds like; it is about the seedy side of it and all the urban legends you’d hear growing up. Plus hasn’t he seen the Other?

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