The Last Exorcism

I’m not quite at my breaking point with these documentary/hand-held camera style horror movies. I know a lot of people are already sick of them but up until this point they have each been unique enough from one another that I am still intrigued by them. The concept of applying this filmmaking approach to an exorcism movie is definitely interesting since that is a sub-genre that can use some spicing up.

The premise is that a documentary crew is following around a priest named Cotton as he heads out to Louisiana to perform what he is calling his final exorcism. The twist is that Cotton is a fake, and he fully admits this. The reason for the documentary is so he can expose exorcisms as a fraud, following the death of a little boy during the performing of one.  It’s an intriguing set-up and an interesting spin on the usual exorcism formula.

The movie is a slow-burn. With a running time of just under 90 minutes, at least half of that is spent setting up the characters and the situation. After arriving at the “possessed” girl’s house, it doesn’t take long to realize that you know what, shit here could be a wee bit fucked up. However things don’t kick into full gear until closer to the hour mark.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a horror movie employing some tension build-up. It gives you more time to grow attached to the characters and to allow a sense a dread to form. I had no issue with The Last Exorcismtaking its time to get going. The primary problem I had is that once it does get going, the pay-off isn’t necessarily worth the wait.

Once you get past the initial lead-up, you are left with a series of scenes featuring people looking around a dark house, almost always culminating in a boo scare, a couple of which I’ll admit are quite effective. It’s done well enough, its just not particularly interesting.

My biggest issue, and it appears I’m certainly not alone on this one, is with the ending. Up until the climax I was at least marginally into the movie but the final few minutes do taint everything that comes before it. I don’t want to spoil anything but it suddenly introduces elements that were nowhere to be seen up until this point and leaves you wondering about answers to questions you didn’t even knew you had until then. I’m fine with a movie leaving some plot points up for debate, but Last Exorcism almost changes the plot completely in the final moments. It does such a 180 that it left me confused, and maybe a little angry, but definitely not intrigued.

I do have to give the movie a few shout-outs, in particular the performance of Ashley Bell who plays Nell, the possible possessee. She makes the character immediately sympathetic which does make the events surrounding her a lot more engaging than they might have been without her. She also needs to be given credit for her physical performance, since none of the exorcism scenes featured any special effects. Any jerky unnatural movements being made were being done completely by her. Overall the cast is pretty strong, but Ashley is the definite stand-out.

Overall The Last Exorcism survives on the strength of a solid premise and a great central performance by Ashley Bell. It kicks off with some intriguing ideas but I didn’t feel they were delivered on, and the ending left such a sour note that it’s a little difficult to remember the positive moments that came before it. It’s not a bad flick, but I wouldn’t expect too much.