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Bewildering Stories

Daniel Stamm, dir., The Last Exorcism

reviewed by Lewayne L. White

The Last Exorcism
Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell
Writers: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Produced by: Arcade Pictures
Release date: August 2010
Length: 87 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has been a successful preacher since childhood., well known for his gift for exorcism. However, Rev. Marcus has experienced his own crisis of faith, and volunteers to be the subject of a ‘documentary’ exposing his techniques. He chooses a letter at random from amongst the written requests for his assistance, and takes a film crew along on the titular last performance before he retires.

However, upon reaching the secluded farm in rural Louisiana and meeting the home-schooled, isolated Nell Sweetzer (Bell) whose behavior prompted her father to contact Rev. Marcus, the good Reverend finds himself in the midst of what may be his first genuine demon possession.

Told in a documentary style that lends a certain gravity to the events, the movie proves itself to be a fairly suspenseful and entertaining horror film. The audience is left speculating about the reality of the possession at the core of the story, particularly as more ‘earthly’ information comes to light as the film progresses. Overall, this film is worth checking out as a rental and will likely satisfy the need for a good scare and a good story...

...provided you stop the movie at a point about two tracks from the end of the disc, when some characters pass a diner and one character asks another about the name of the diner. This is also a good point to stop reading the review if you’d like to watch the film without significant spoilers being revealed.

SPOILERS follow:

As mentioned above, Rev. Marcus and the two person film crew leave the farm after apparently having discovered the true ‘cause’ of the ‘possession,’ and leaving the family in the hands of the local pastor.

This local pastor’s behavior, contrasted with the girl’s father’s behavior, provides a nice counterpoint between the utility and comfort of religion and the potential for physical and psychological harm it can enable. Rev. Marcus has shown a skeptical audience that possessions can be a mixture of psychological trauma, extreme religious upbringing, mental illness, etc. And to top it all off, the movie has a happy ending in which all the characters survive...

Until the diner scene referenced above.

Rev. Marcus and the crew stop at the diner to interview a young man whose name has come up amidst the events of the film. After speaking to him, they grow suspicious of people they’ve just left, return to the farm, and are slaughtered by a demon-worshipping cult that apparently has raised a real demon and revealed the supernatural source of the possession.

I have a few problems with this ending. The movie has spent most of its time leading you to the conclusion that the girl may, in fact, be possessed, then turns it on you, almost as if shaking its finger and shaming you for thinking such a thing, then slaps the ending on and says, ‘Just kidding. She was the mother of a demon and everyone you’ve been following and learning to sympathize with will either be killed or do the killing.’ It cheapens what could have actually been a decent portrayal of the subject of possession in the ‘real’ world. Certainly it takes away from the real tragedies perpetrated in the name of casting out demons even in the 21st century.

Secondly, part of the conceit of the film is the ‘documentary’ style. This style kept me engaged, as well as giving it a a sense of ‘reality.’ The footage looks like footage a filmmaker would actually collect, rather than scenes that ‘needed’ to be shot to make the movie.

Then we reach the final scene when the Reverend and the crew witness the cult’s ceremony. At that point, the shots look planned, and worst of all, once it becomes clear that the crew and probably Rev. Marcus are dead, I was left wondering how the audience would have naturally come to view this material.

The Blair Witch Project claimed the movie was pieced together from found footage. Both versions of ‘REC’ (‘Quarantine’ in the USA) as well ‘Cloverfield,’ suggest the footage was found by a response team of some sort. Given that the cult is aware of the camera, the crew, and their reason for being there, it seems unlikely they would have done anything but destroy the footage. Certainly it never would have gotten to the audience to view.

Overall, I liked this film. It was a entertaining examination of the possession phenomenon and until the end, nothing in it couldn’t happen in the real world, but the final bit ruins it for me. It’s worth watching even if you’ve read through all the above spoilers, and I’d recommend it to fans of suspenseful horror movies. However, I also recommend that you shut the movie off before the crew reaches the diner and interviews ‘Logan.’

Copyright © 2011 by Lewayne L. White

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