The Last Exorcism
September 9, 2010
Even though I love to see skepticism positively portrayed in a movie, I can't help but feel disappointed by the shameless burglarizing of the history of horror.
A disillusioned evangelical exorcist agrees to participate in a documentary film to prove that exorcism works just as well when you don't believe in god, but what he comes across rattles everyone involved. Horror-style rip-offs run rampant throughout The Last Exorcism like hypersexual coeds from knife-wielding terror-film clichés. If anyone who has any appreciation for the genre can't tell the entire plot at the beginning, they should be examined for a wide variety of mental and memory disorders.
Cotton Marcus was raised in the church. He, like his father before him, used the bible to cast out demons that had taken hold over the bodies of possessed innocents. As time passes, Marcus believes less in god and more that he is only providing a service to help people feel better. He invites a film crew to follow him, and he shows them the tricks he uses to make the exorcism process more satisfying. The film crew chooses a letter at random from Marcus's pile of requests for exorcisms. It is from Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), who is convinced that his daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), is possessed. Marcus and the film crew head to the Deep South, hoping to convince people who see the film that exorcism is nonsense. What they find is far more complicated than an overly worried parent.
The Last Exorcism is a Frankenstein's monster of a horror movie. Writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland don't even try to hide their cinematic jewel heisting. Horrorphiles will spot scenes stolen from many horror films of yore. Style, content, scenes, and themes are directly ripped off from other movies and slap-dashed together with a bit of movie stitching. The director, Daniel Stamm, tried to jolt the movie into contemporary relevance but has no right saying, “It's alive!” The movie just shakes around on the table like a dead fish with its tail in an outlet. The film's general malaise leaves one wondering if it hasn't taken up permanent residence on the other side.
Stamm tries to get us excited about the story by wrapping it in camera work that is supposed to confuse the audience and displace its attention. It's shaky, out of focus, and makes following what is actually happening nearly impossible. Letting our mind fill in the blanks is an effective way to create drama. When it's done properly, this method can exploit evolutionary machines in the brain to create an underlying sense of uneasiness. It only works, however, when the viewer can actually make out what the director is trying to show. The Last Exorcism demands from the audience the ability not only to fill in the blanks but write the sentence as well. It is like playing Mad-Libs on a blank sheet of paper-alone. There are no libs, only madness.
It is only the first hour or so of the movie, when the plot setup is unfolding, that The Last Exorcism is any fun to watch. Cotton's confessions about losing his faith and his attempts to set right his own crimes by exposing his misdeeds does a skeptic's heart good. The camera crew characters discuss with Cotton possible worldly explanations for the goings-on. They show tricks used by “exorcists” to make the service more satisfying. Even when things get more than a bit preternatural, the crew is still trying hard to find worldly explanations to things that seem inexplicable.
Even though I love to see skepticism positively portrayed in a movie, I can't help but feel disappointed by the shameless burglarizing of the history of horror. Worse, The Last Exorcism fails to excite, make the audience tremble in fear, or demand attention. Director Daniel Stamm wants to steal these sports cars of cinema, but he doesn't know how to drive them. He just breaks in and spends two hours trying to get the car started.