Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Last Exorcism

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 1-5. 1, of course, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Fine, I'll give you another exorcism but this is the LAST exorcism, Mister!

The Last Exorcism – 4 out of 5

Ever since The Exorcist came out everyone and their mother have wanted to rip-off make their own possession film that culminates in a priest exorcising the shit out of a demon. The problem that always arrives is the fact that The Exorcist is held as a masterpiece of horror that still is capable of freaking the shit out of people (even if they’ve seen it multiple times like me) and these wannabes are just cheesefests that can’t recapture the tone, spirit and realism that William Friedkin’s film did so many years ago…no matter how many times you claim your film is “based on a true story.”

This film did give us what The Exorcist paced shaving action!

I originally passed on watching this one when it came out for a few reasons. Number One) it’s a “found footage” film and that is already major points played against a film as it screams that this film was nothing but a gimmick to try and make money rather than try to create scares and Number Two) Eli Roth produced it and, I’ll just say it, he’s a terrible filmmaker and his name attached gave me a bad feeling about this. So, I wanted nothing to do with the film but with the arrival of the sequel, my horror nerd of a girlfriend behest me to watch the first one before we watched the follow up (and by “behest” I mean she tied me naked to a chair and beat my testicles with a heavy, knotted rope—she knows how much I enjoyed Casino Royale; it’s actually kinda sweet that she knows me so well). Soon, I found I was taken back by how good the movie was.

"I'm not possessed, this is just really good for the lower back."

The film follows a documentary crew that is doing a story on the charlatan preacher named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton is reminiscent of the child prodigy of the evangelical world; Marjoe Gortner—meaning that he doesn’t really believe what he is saying and is doing it more to milk people out of there money and profit off of their beliefs (Marjoe was the focus of a documentary from 1972 and it is insanely interesting). Cotton gets a letter from a man named Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) who claims he believes his daughter is possessed by the devil. Cotton heads on down to meet with the family and believes that the daughter; Nell (Ashley Bell), is actually just suffering from emotional issues and decides to do a “placebo exorcism” for the benefit of the father who is a “fire and brimstone” believer. However, Cotton soon learns that his “for show” exorcism won’t be enough as it’s quickly revealed that there really is a demon residing inside of Nell…

You think a demon would pick a person to possess from a less "backwoods rape"

I really don’t like “found footage” films because they have become such a cheap cookie cutter gimmick in the world of horror movies. Rarely do they ever try to do anything unique and they almost ALWAYS reek of fast ways to get the biggest return on phoned-in scary flicks. Sometimes, however, they get things right. For example, The Blair Witch Project was a movie I enjoyed because it came before we got a single Paranormal Activity film (and then sequel after sequel built on the idea of "Yeah, we can do worse") so it was fresh and original and, unlike things like Apollo 18, The Devil Inside and the other hundreds of “found footage” movies we get a year, it felt real. What did The Blair Witch have that other films of this sub-genre didn't?  An actual realistic reason to be filming constantly.

It's a "found footage" film so you do get some of this...but not much, thankfully.

The Blair Witch Project was about a documentary film crew so they had a reason to film and it wasn’t about some screenwriter who thinks that a teenager has a desire to film themselves at all times. That’s one of the reasons The Last Exorcism worked for me. There’s a documentary film crew following Cotton to see his snake oil salesman ways so filming every flippin’ second of every flippin’ day actually makes a small amount of sense…even though it ends up creating a major plot hole that involves the fact the footage went unedited and, yet, somehow ended up getting mood music edited in for effect. However, this is easy to ignore (if you even noticed it in the first place) thanks to another element of the film…

Or, it could be possible, that Nell's dad had a Casio keyboard or mini-boom box
adding tension music live on the scene.

Unlike most “found footage” films, this movie actually has a really great cast of talented actors making the film look authentic and not like the director wanted to save on costs and cast his co-workers at his day job and paid them in pizza and beer (but only allowed them one slice and half a can of Milwaukee’s Best—the director isn’t made of money here, people!). Patrick Fabian is just great as Cotton and carries the movie incredibly well. He seems genuine at every turn and when his character starts to realize he may have been wrong about the supernatural, you can see it in him. His reactions are never too over-the-top and he remains grounded as a believable character.

Shown moments before he started shooting fire out of his mouth...
Like I said, he feels believable.

Ashley Bell, who plays the possessed Nell Sweetzer, can’t match Fabian in the realism department and it's clear she only got the job because her presence saved production on special effects costs due to the fact she has hypermobility and can move her joints in freaky, demon-possessed looking ways. Under the influence of the monster from the netherworld, Bell is decent in her performance and looks like a person you would imagine a possessed person to look like WITHOUT giving the appearance that she was basing her performance on Linda Blair. However, when we see Bell just play a young, backwoods naïve teenage girl, she is far less convincing. She isn’t outright terrible and she is doing her job well enough that you can see a façade of a nervous young woman but she just doesn’t compare to the level that Fabian brought to his role.

Teenagers...if it's not drugs and underage sex, it's demon possession.

The only problem I really had with the film is I didn’t find it scary…at all. I appreciate that director Daniel Stamm decided to give the film a tone of horror and scares rather than go for the cheap “someone jump in front of the camera” jump scare that is the entire running length of most “found footage” films but the atmosphere he crafted, while interesting and containing tons of potential moments for scares, didn’t do anything to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, cause my heart-rate to increase or my blood-pressure to rise. In the end, I found the scary moments to be more interesting from a storytelling perspective than spooky.

Cotton's Big Book O' Demons written by Glenn Beck.  It takes a demon, amirite?

Okay, so The Last Exorcism didn’t really scare me or even give me the creeps but that doesn’t mean I found the film to be a failure. Instead, I dug the subject matter of the story, was glad it wasn’t just a rip-off of The Exorcist, loved the performance from Patrick Fabian and found his character of Cotton Marcus to be ridiculously interesting and attention-grabbing, and I was thankful the film actually did something right with its “found footage” elements. The lack of scares or even the most basic levels of creep the film never delivered can easily be overlooked thanks to all these other, stronger elements but the incredible ending only makes the lack of scares a nonexistent complaint.

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