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Philly2Philly Reviews 'The Last Exorcism' - Scary, but Ultimately Disappointing


The Exorcist meets the Blair Witch Project with uneven results"The Last Exorcism." Photo: Lionsgate

The Last Exorcism is scary, but disappointing.

The Last Exorcism is almost a good movie. Produced by trustworthy horror maestro Eli Roth and competently directed by newcomer Daniel Stamm, the film manages to build a genuine sense of unease before completely flying off the rails during the third act. The result evokes a bi-polar reaction, and there will likely be a plethora of F-bombs dropped by the audience as they exit the theater.

The film uses the tired technique of mockumentary that the Blair Witch Project made a phenomenon and last year’s Paranormal Activity  resurrected. This film, in that vein, tries to pass off the actors and situation as “real”, and documents a film crew following a preacher as he performs his last exorcism.

During the intro of the alleged “documentary,” Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) introduces us to his family, the over the top sermons, and a general background on the exorcisms he’s performed over the years. It turns out Cotton is a bit of a fraud, using magic tricks and props to make others believe there is a demon within them and that he actually rids the body of the entity. However, as he goes on to explain, the end result is the same. If these individuals truly are relieved after the process and can go back to living normal lives, then there is still a good dead at the heart of it.

Still, Cotton wants out of the business, and has invited the crew along so they can witness him bow out in style by filming an actual fake exorcism. The crew packs up and heads to the Sweetzer farm where he meets Nell (Ashley Bell), a young girl who has been battling with quite a nasty little presence. Her behavior consists of several violent outbursts, none of which she remembers, and most of which end in someone being attacked or livestock being slaughtered. Predictably, Cotton approaches the situation with dollar signs in his eyes and dismisses any notion that the girl is actually possessed. However, when his faux exorcism tactics fail to rid the girl of the problem and the weirdness intensifies, the preacher starts to question what is really occurring to the young girl.

The Last Exorcism starts off very shaky, finds it’s footing with a startling, highly creepy midsection, only to fall flat on its face during the climax. Director Stamm has a hard time selling the movie like it’s an actual documentary during the early moments, the below average actors also playing a part in that in authenticity. However, he does manage a few nasty, startling scares during the middle of the movie, one instance involving a housecat. That adrenaline, sadly, deflates like hot air from a balloon once the twisty, absurd climax rolls around.

The acting here is fair, mostly underwhelming with two notable exceptions. Fabian, who plays Cotton, runs with the con artist nature of the character, with entertaining results. He has a natural charisma and brings something very important to a film like this, and that is a sense of humor. This no doubt echoes the influence of Roth as well, his trademark being humor to offset the unsettling mood. As the tortured girl, Bell is particularly effective, writhing and contorting in every which way imaginable. The portrayal isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it does feel very organic, chilling, and unpredictable.

The Last Exorcism ends up an odd experience. People may be satisfied with the few big jolts the movie provides, but the majority will likely leave the theater throwing their hands up in the air at that half assed, anticlimactic ending. Save this one for the Netflix queue on a cold autumn night.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Pictures: Lionsgate