Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: The Last Exorcism (2010)

Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell

Reviewing is never an exact science. There’s no real set in stone way to approach one, and sometimes it’s just…difficult to pen down thoughts on some movies. Sometimes you just don’t really have much constructive to write about certain movies. Well…that just won’t fly when you’re trying to write a blog. Here’s a review of The Last Exorcism.

This is a shaky cam film, which means that people will compare it to the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity; two movies that I really don’t think deserve the honor of being comparative milestones. But there it is, even though really The Last Exorcism is its own kind of film. It’s a “faux-umentary,” to quote a Yahoo article I just read, and it really does have a few nuances and little things about it that make it stand out. It was marketed entirely wrong, being set up like another redundant horror boredom flick about a girl getting exorcised for a malevolent demon inside her, but it is really more than that.

The first thing you will notice that’s different about this movie is that the main character Cotton is actually well written and interesting to watch and listen to. He’s played by TV actor Patrick Fabian, who does a very good job, actually. His shtick is that he’s a zealous preacher who performs sermons that are fun to be around, if we’re to believe the numerous people who the faux-umentary also interviews in the beginning of the movie. After his sister, I think, died though, he began to have second thoughts about God and all of his beliefs, despite the fact that he still did it “on autopilot; it is what [he] does.” He also performs exorcisms, although after hearing of numerous mishaps where people died during ‘accidents’ during them, he now takes on a very different mindset about them. Cotton treats exorcisms as a sort of placebo effect to set peoples’ minds at rest from whatever physical, grounded ailment is really going on. He performs them because it’s something people can believe in and hold onto through a hard time, even though he at least thinks he knows that there are no real supernal forces at work anywhere.

See, this is what I really want to see more of in horror movies. Characters with defined personalities and inner conflicts and turmoil that make them more interesting to watch. Cotton’s monologues and lines are some of the choice moments in the film, and he’s really made out to be a complex and multi-dimensional character, which is much better than what these movies usually give us.

So he’s called out to sort out a problem with a farmer whose wife died and was left with two teenage children. Apparently the daughter, named Nell, has been blacking out at night and waking up with the farm animals dead around her. This seems to mean for the farmer that she is possessed, and thus he called Cotton to come perform his ‘last exorcism,’ which will be taped on camera. This is the other thing about the movie that I found really interesting, as throughout the duration the lines are blurred in regards to whether Nell is possessed or just plain old crazy, blacking out because of repressed memories of a traumatic incident. Which one is it? Are any of the characters lying to Cotton and his film crew? I’ll leave it to you to go see the movie and find out. I really think this kind of ambiguity is important, and does a lot for the story to make it more interesting.

The acting is pretty passable, with the bigger roles adequately filling their shoes – Ashley Bell as Nell is very good. The shaky cam is done pretty well, given more intricacy and attention to detail and storytelling than hack-work like Paranormal Activity. It’s not quite [REC], but it’s still pretty good, even if a lot of the movie would have worked with regular directing anyway. But the reason they did it is because of the ending, which I will not spoil here, but I will say that it works for the movie, even in its abruptness. People who say it didn’t work are probably just expecting another cop-out title card at the end explaining things and trying to be ominous with a bunch of hokey nonsense. The fact that this movie eschews all of the usual ‘their bodies were never found, this is a true story’ crap is a breath of fresh air.

The Last Exorcism isn’t perfect, with some scenes in the middle meandering and losing interest a bit, but overall this is quite a fresh and ironic turn of the heel of the horror genre, with a standard looking template filled with some new twists and some interesting angles on the whole thing that make it stand out. This won’t appeal to the people who want to see more Paranormal Activity-like activities, but it is pretty fun, and will at least make you think a little. Recommended.