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By now it’s no secret: I love scary movies. And when I saw the Halloween decorations up at a nearby drug store I couldn’t help but get excited as my favorite time of year is quickly approaching. Now John and I have some exciting things planned for the month of October, but we’ll let you know about them when the time is right. In the meantime, I thought I might get my scare on and check out the latest demon-possession extravaganza The Last Exorcism. So with a big old bucket of popcorn I sat in a very dark theater and dared this movie, “C’mon scare me bitch!” Sadly, I’m not sure the movie heard me. For as interesting as parts of this film are, in the end I was hardly scared.
The film follows an Evangelical minister Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton has been preaching since he was 10 years old, and is much more of a showman than a real minister; he uses magic tricks in his sermons and often gets his parish to say amen to the most absurd things. His father taught Cotton to perform exorcisms and he did his very first one when he was a young boy. Cotton is making a documentary of his exorcisms to prove a point; not that exorcisms are real, but that they are in fact a hoax. Cotton admits that nearly every one of his exorcisms was a fake and that he felt his services were more like that of a shrink than a real man of God. But after reading about a young girl who died during an exorcism Reverend Marcus wants to expose the industry for what it is in order to save lives. So Cotton takes his small crew with him on a trip to the backwoods of Louisiana, documenting his last exorcism. Of course, strange things happen and Cotton must deal with his waning faith as he deals with what appears to be something very real.
Directed by independent filmmaker Daniel Stamm, the movie was shot entirely on a handy cam and is presented as “found footage.” By now we have all gotten used to the gimmick that is the handy cam movie. Last year’s hit Paranormal Activity showed us how effective this style can be when you leave it alone and let the audience fill in the blanks. Other film such as June 09 and The Blair Witch Project have fallen short of the mark as these films tend to reach for things and present the audience with ideas and notions that aren’t quite there. This movie seems to suffer from this same fate as it struggles with being “found footage” and a Hollywood film.
For example, during the scary scenes in the film we can hear the soft undertones of some spooky music. Where did this music come from? Is there an orchestra of musical demons waiting in the background just ready to play some tune when things get good? That, and without ruining the end, there is a moment of some obvious CG and flame work put onto the final scene. In a movie that presents itself as real, images such as this remind me I am watching a movie and I lose all sense of credibility with the piece.
The other problem I have with films like The Last Exorcism are the unrealistic reactions of the main characters. If I had my camera and was out in the woods and scary stuff started happening around me, I might grab 30 seconds of footage to show my friends, but then I am out of there. Too often in the film the characters stay too long in a situation where most normal people would run like hell. It’s like watching Scooby Doo, “Oh Shaggy let’s go back to the haunted house and look for clues.” Seriously? Not when people are being cut up by some possessed demon chick. Nope, not for me.
Finally, the film culminates in a supposedly shocking ending that feels more like a slap in the face. I’m a sucker for clever endings as I find that they can make a marginal film brilliant (take Diggstown for example). But when an ending comes from left field in an attempt to say “gotcha” and leaves the clever clues behind, well then I’m insulted. Endings like that cheapen the experience and and make me wonder if any of the good parts of the film were actually worth it.
Now this isn’t to say that the film is entirely bad. There are some very good messages in the film and ones that deserve some discussion. Cotton professes that if you believe in God that you must believe in the Devil as well. He of course struggles with this, but I know a lot of other people who do not. It’s this and other religious concepts that are in the beginning of the film that really made me think. I only wish that Stamm had spent more time exploring these ideas throughout the entire film as it could have helped carry the story further.
Another decent part of the film was the acting. Patrick Fabian portrays Cotton to a tee; he is completely believable as a man who has lost his faith. Yet his charismatic approach to the pulpit has not deterred his good guy essence. You can tell that he genuinely cares for this possessed little girl, and his desire to rescue her from her fate drives his actions as a character. Even the setting becomes a creepy character in the film. The Deep South is full of backwards folks that I’m never quite sure of. Is this strange lady who is inviting me to dinner being nice, or does she want to use me as pig feed? If you have ever gotten lost in the South – and trust me, I have – you know exactly what I am talking about.
The acting in the film creates a slow burn of suspense that on the surface works rather well. That and a few jump scares make this a decent film to rent when it comes out on video. It is, however, the throw-away twist ending to the film that ruined everything for me and as such makes this film hardly worth your money in the big theater. You may even end up like me and have some chuckleheads sit right behind you and talk throughout the entire picture. (Man, I wish Darwin would hurry up and extinct these folks.) For a better, and dare I say scarier, time throw some 3D to love to the killer fishies. And let’s hope that the other scary flicks to come out in the next few weeks can do a better job.
Rating = 2 Buckets-o-Popcorn out of 5