Thursday, August 19, 2010

TADFF Review: The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism

During question and answer period of The Last Exorcism screening director Eli Roth, who produced the film, stated that he is drawn to films where the real discussion begins once the films ends. This perfectly encapsulates The Last Exorcism. The film may not make you jump out of your seats, but you will be thinking about The Last Exorcism long after it is over.

Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has been preaching the gospel since the age of 10. Immensely charismatic, Cotton knows all the right things to say to both his congregation and the various people he encounters on the street. Despite not believing the religious jargon he spews, Cotton continues to preach in order to take care of his wife and child. After a young boy is killed during an exorcism procedure, Cotton Marcus becomes determined to expose just how fake exorcisms really are. Cotton enlists a documentary film crew to follow him while he “performs” one last exorcism. Picking a letter at random, Cotton heads to a small town in Louisiana to conduct an exorcism on Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell). Nell’s father Louis (Louis Herthum) is convinced his daughter is possessed but Cotton is not so easily swayed. The deeper Cotton delves into Nell’s predicament the more dangerous things become for Cotton and his film crew. Is Nell really possessed by evil forces? Or is there a greater mystery afoot?

Similar to The Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism is all about the audience creating the horror in their minds. The film does not aim to shock via excessive gore or elaborate deaths. This type of film spends time creating the right atmosphere, which impacts the viewer much more than merely splashing the screen with blood. Telling the tale through the eyes of the documentary camera man is both a benefit and a disadvantage for the film’s director, Daniel Stamm. On one hand Stamm is able to create the claustrophobic and creepy atmosphere that only having viewpoint provides. Unfortunately, the fact that some of the moments are “edited” takes the audience out of the story at the wrong moments. For example, when Cotton is conducting his exorcism the film constantly jumps back and forth between scenes of the exorcism and scenes where Cotton is explaining the tricks of the trade. While the section is very amusing, the audience cannot help but question when did the documentary crew have time to splice those scenes together? Especially since the audience is led to believe that the events are being documented as they happen.

Still, despite the minor flaws, there is a lot to likeabout The Last Exorcism. The performances from both Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell are outstanding. While Cotton is as fraudulent as the exorcisms he wants to expose, Fabian’s portrayal of Cotton is by no means a gimmick. Fabian brings a nicely layered performance that will have you laughing along with Cotton just as much as you fear for his safety. Cotton’s scenes with Nell go from sweet to chilling in a blink of an eye. Ashley Bell does a great job of making Nell both the victim and the aggressor. There is a great scene in the film where Nell is sitting on the bed all innocent looking while Cotton checks up on her. Then, just before the door closes, she delivers this slow evil grin to the camera that sends shivers down the audience’s spine. It should also be noted that there were no special effects used for Nell’s scenes. Every disturbing body contortion is 100% Bell. The Last Exorcism is a film that succeeds because it harkens back to more minimalist horror films. The type of tales where the scariest aspects are the things that the audience creates in their own mind.

Grade: A-

Stars in attendance: Producer Eli Roth and actors Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell held a question and answer session after the screening.


  1. Looked scary, but I have a feeling this is how all horror films are going to start to be played out as, since the success of Paranormal Activity.

  2. @CMrok93 - I think everything goes throught its cycles. A few years ago "torture porn", as some critics called it, was all the rage (i.e. Hostel, Saw, The Hills Have Eyes). Before that it was the Japanese horror remakes. Now I think things are going back to the "it's spooky but not gory" style of horror.


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