Released: Out now
Director: Daniel Stamm
Screenwriter: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Cast: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum
Distributor: Optimum Releasing
Running Time: 95 mins
With a ‘Produced by Eli Roth’ tag, you’d be forgiven for expecting a gore-fest but director Daniel Stamm’s pseudo-doc The Last Exorcism is refreshingly restrained and relies on tension, suspense and the power of suggestion to chill, and is for the most part remarkably successful as a result.
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has been preaching from the pulpit since he can remember, sprucing up his sermons with card tricks, sleight of hand and crowd-pleasing exhibition. Despite being a veteran of 43 exorcisms he sets out to prove that possession is a falsehood – his devil-removals are achieved with smoke and sound effects, not the ‘power of Christ’ – by filming the ‘exorcism’ of Nell, the teenage daughter of Louis Sweetzer (Herthum). Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned.
Set up as Friedkin’s Exorcist meets [REC], The Last Exorcism strays from the ‘it’s real’ handi-cam aesthetic by injecting a musical score, but the urgency of the Blair Witch approach remains. The escalating tension as Cotton and his film crew meet the possessed is handled well and the uncertainties over the origins of the girl’s plight lend the film an unpredictability. The character of Cotton, too, is someone who is well-meaning but also a vile charlatan, and it is testament to Fabian’s performance that someone so repugnant remains so empathetic too.
The film is at its most chilling, though, when considering the possibility for cruelty that is created when powerful emotions (grief, guilt) are coupled with devout belief. There are a number of well orchestrated set pieces that would discomfort even Linda Blair, and the film takes the corruption of innocence to a quite shocking conclusion. Yet this is the film’s ultimate downfall. In striving to maintain its escalation with a suitably sensationalist payoff it abandons the credible for the cliché.
Not as enjoyable as Paranormal Activity, but it’s a neat spin on the Handycam genre, and effective enough in its own right.