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The Last Exorcism

A movie released August 27, 2010

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Possession is a Lot Scarier without an Explanation

  • Sep 25, 2010
"If you believe in God," says Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), "then you must believe in the Devil." This eternal clash between good and evil is the backbone of Christian faith, and Marcus understands that. Growing up in Baton Rouge as the son of a preacher, he was groomed to become one himself at a very early age; looking back on his life, he admits to the camera that, while he learned plenty about behaving like a preacher, he never really learned about what he was preaching. He plays the part of the pious evangelical beautifully - boisterous, flashy, always with the loud, slick talk about Jesus and God the Father Almighty and crying, "Amen!" But what does he really believe? He isn't sure when the film starts, but when the film ends ... let's just say that, at that point, a crisis of faith is the least of his problems.

Of one thing, he has become certain: Demons don't exist. Having performed many exorcisms, he candidly explains that, although he has never been a doctor, he has served as a healer for those who believed they needed healing. All he had to do was put on a performance and maybe sneak in a few special effects. But then came news of a supposedly possessed autistic boy that was suffocated to death during an exorcism; for Marcus, a line had been crossed. What if that had been his own son, who survived after being born prematurely? How could he continue pretending to cast out demons knowing that medicine and not Jesus Christ saved his son? His new mission in life has been to expose the phoniness of exorcisms as well as to rescue victimized children. Hence this documentary.

The first ten minutes of "The Last Exorcism" develop the Cotton Marcus character so well, he effectively draws the audience into a plot that, when viewed from a distance, is relentlessly absurd. This is the newest in a long line of faux documentaries compiled from "recovered footage," which is to say that it's by no means a groundbreaking horror film. Nevertheless, it's thoroughly entertaining, and at times, it's quite frightening. I only take issue with the film's final five minutes, a scene so visually and structurally unoriginal that it surpasses routine and becomes an anticlimax. If there's anything we've learned from the good horror movies, it's that certain things are better left to the imagination - to explain everything is to ruin the suspense. Had I been one of the producers, I would have fought tooth and nail for a reshoot of the ending.

But I'm getting way ahead of the story. Marcus, who's constantly sent exorcism requests, responds to a letter from a man claiming that his teenage daughter is possessed. He travels to a remote farmhouse with his producer and cameraman, where they meet the Sweetzer family. The teenage son, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), always seems to know more than he lets on, and is often highly intimidating. The father, Louis (Louis Herthum), is devoutly religious, deeply troubled since the death of his wife, and alarmingly overprotective of his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), who he believes is afflicted with a demon. How else to explain his slaughtered livestock and the blood that always appears on Nell's clothing in the morning? How else to explain the nights of endless screaming?

Marcus has seen and heard all this before. The sleepless nights, the dead animals, the blood - it's a textbook case as far as he's concerned. After meeting the nervous but nonetheless good natured Nell, he reveals to the camera his tricks for creating a convincing exorcism, including rigging a bedroom with fishing wire, hiding speakers in strategic places, and playing spooky sound effects at the push of a button. He then puts on a show, Nell and her father none the wiser. Marcus tells them that the demon has been exorcised. Father and daughter are relieved. Marcus and his crew leave, believing it to be another open and shut case. Things start going wrong, however, when Nell suddenly appears the crew's motel room, her eyes glazed over, her actions highly provocative. How did she get there? The motel is miles away from her home. Upon taking her to the hospital, Marcus stresses that what she really needs is a psychological examination, not more religious rhetoric.

And from here, the film gets increasingly more conventional. Conventional and nauseating, the ever reliable Queasy Cam put to full use. Marcus and his team return to the farmhouse. Nell has periods of erratic, violent behavior, only to emerge from them unaware of what she had done. Disturbing drawings prove to have been prophetic, such as that of a white cat coated in blood and with X's for eyes. Suspicions are aroused. Marcus finds it harder to play the part of an evangelical minister, for his real goal is to get Nell out of the house and into a psychiatric ward. Although shaken by the night's unsettling events, he remains unconvinced Nell is genuinely possessed. I dare not reveal whether or not this is the case. "The Last Exorcism" would have been a much better film if it had done the same thing. Given the wonderful development of the Marcus character, given how frighteningly enjoyable most of the film is, it's unfortunate that director Daniel Stamm opted for an ending that unsuccessfully goes for the obvious.

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January 10, 2011
I really enjoyed your synopsis and analysis. My review seems provincial when you so aptly write about the characters, which are so well drawn by Fabian and Bell.
January 10, 2011
Great observations, Chris and thanks for the review. We have similar things to say about this one, though I think you liked it a little more than I did.
January 10, 2011
It was mostly the Reverend Cotton character and a couple of frightening shots. Apart from that, I agree that the film is awfully routine.
October 26, 2010
Excellent review, I will be picking this up when it comes out on DVD.
More The Last Exorcism reviews
review by . August 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When You Believe in God, You'll Have to Believe In The Devil...
Let’s cut to the chase; if you don’t like the first-person POV style cinematography and storytelling first seen in movies such as “The Blair Witch Project”, then in movies such as “Diary of the Dead”, “Paranormal Activity” and the Spanish Horror hit “[REC]” then you may not be the right viewer for “THE LAST EXORCISM”. The film was co-produced by Eli Roth and directed by Daniel Stamm and was meant to emulate the documentary …
review by . February 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
** out of ****     If there's anything really "wrong" with "The Last Exorcism", then it's that there's nothing bad about it yet there's nothing good about it either. The film intends on riding its mockumentary/ "Blair Witch"-style premise as long as it can, and in a number of ways it's more of a success than past efforts. But I've seen better. In fact, I've seen much better. "REC" and "Paranormal Activity" are both great examples of horror films which use their "Blair Witch Project" …
review by . March 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
      THE LAST EXORCISM      I will admit that when I first heard about this I was actually interested in it unlike another handheld style flick that was coming out. I have always been into these exorcism movies and it also had Eli Roth and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake producers on board so I was into it. After finally seeing it I had to say I was impressed with some things and not so much on others. I will say that it is a good movie but it could …
review by . January 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Faux Horror-mentary Has High Haunt Count
It's the amateur hour to be sure, but they do a lot with very little.  As a faux documentary, Louisiana preacher, Rev. Cotton, would like to make good on his track to perform phony exorcisms.  In a straight-forward fashion, he shows his duplicity up front, so he can expose exorcism once the headlines show what harm well-meaning people have done to a girl during the ritual.  Things fall apart to be sure, but the results, while not always startling, have a creepy haunt count. Subjectively, …
review by . September 05, 2010
      The horror documentary--a brilliant bit of filmmaking if done right, a curious experiment if not.  Either way, the mocumentary filmmaker is ahead of game because idea itself so novel.  For starters, the documentary format precludes any notions of disbelief--it goes step further than the mere willing suspension of disbelief, and presents itself immediately as "real" and "true".  Following on that, documentaries are, quite often, understood …
review by . August 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
THE LAST EXORCISM is yet another horror movie told through the use of "captured by someone who just happens to be filming for some other reason" device. Examples include THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (which started it all, for better or worse), PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (captured by a home camcorder), DIARY OF THE DEAD (captured by the camcorder of a college student, plus other video from the web), CLOVERFIELD (camcorder), QUARANTINE (local news cameraman with an endless battery), etc. In this current film, …
Quick Tip by . March 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I found this to be a good film but the real goodies here are the commentaries on the DVD/Blu-Ray release. Both are very good with one being the director and the actors and the other being the producers. Both are good with the director/actors one being more fun and lively and the producer being one of the absolute best learning commentaries I have ever heard. If you are interested in behind the scenes stuff and how films are made this is the commentary for you. The other bonus features are good as …
Quick Tip by . January 09, 2011
There's a wonderfully little idea wrapped up inside THE LAST EXORCISM that -- given the hands of a competent director -- may actually have blossomed to frightening realization: a charlatan preacher goes about trying to prove faith is misguided when he attempts a 'Punk'd'-style documentary about fake exorcisms. The twist? He's actually caught in the middle of what may (or may not have been) a real-life incident of possession. Again, in the hands of a competent director, THE LAST EXORCISM could've …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


The Last Exorcism is a movie directed by Daniel Stamm

A troubled evangelical minister agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew.

When he arrives on the rural Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer, the Reverend Cotton Marcus expects to perform just another routine “exorcism” on a disturbed religious fanatic. An earnest fundamentalist, Sweetzer has contacted the charismatic preacher as a last resort, certain his teenage daughter Nell is possessed by a demon who must be exorcized before their terrifying ordeal ends in unimaginable tragedy. Buckling under the weight of his conscience after years of parting desperate believers with their money, Cotton and his crew plan to film a confessionary documentary of this, his last exorcism. But upon arriving at the already blood drenched family farm, it is soon clear that nothing could have prepared him for the true evil he encounters there. Now, too late to turn back, Reverend Marcus’ own beliefs are shaken to the core when he and his crew must find a way to save Nell – and themselves – before it is too late.

Poster art for "The Last Exorcism."
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Director: Daniel Stamm
Genre: Horror
Release Date: August 27, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Huck Botko
Runtime: 87 Min
Studio: Lionsgate Films
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