I'm going to tread lightly with this review. To delve too far into it would really kill the twists and turns that this film takes. Most likely, we've all been raised with some sort of religion in our lives. How we view it now and its current role will vary from person to person a great deal. For me personally, this film epitomizes how I feel about religion in the modern age. I won't discuss that here in this review as I want to save the discussion for a later date after you (and subsequently more people) get a chance to see it. At face value, The Last Exorcism is a terrifying horror film. One that takes the conventions and trappings of your garden variety demonic possession film and turns them on it's head.
Immediately, we are introduced to a southern reverend who's a bit of a rockstar of his town and church in Louisiana. Seeing him at work is a sight to behold and when he's at the top of his game, he can say whatever he wants to his congregation. And along with it, comes nods of unquestioning acceptance. To prove his point, he recites his mother's banana nut bread recipe mid sermon, unbeknownst to the entranced congregation. This swagger and master showmanship is also seen with his other family specialty: performing exorcisms.
As the camera begins to role, we learn that he plans to document his last 'exorcism.' He's set out to document this last exorcism as he wants to get out of the 'business' as he's learned of a child actually dying mid performance. He wants to reveal the true nature of it as well as expose it for what it really is. What he gets when he goes out to a family's rural farm is a lot more than he bargained for.
We arrive at the farm and learn that the farmer's daughter is afflicted with, what the farmer believes to be, a healthy case of demonic possession. Proof positive to him is the livestock that are being killed and the other strange behaviors that his daughter is exhibiting. As he begins to perform the ritual the pastor, having submerged her feet into a watery bath, notices the water beginning to boil. Despite this and the other occurances which the father has described, the pastor really thinks nothing of it and proceeds with the rest of the rites. Along with his son, the father enters the girl's room and the pastor finishes the 'exorcism.' But after the 'act' is performed, and we think the pastor and his filming crew have a clean exit out of town, the girl shows up in his motel room that night.
And really that's all that I'd like to get into at this point. The only other thing that I'll say is that, obviously, pastor and crew stick around and things escalate with the girl performing violent acts on family, animals and then turning her focus to pastor and crew. We learn that all is not as it seems and other people who have been a part of her life re-enter the picture. With the shocking conclusion, you could literally feel the air being sucked out of the theater.
The year isn't over yet, but this film is definitely at the top of my list for best horror film of 2010. It would be easy to travel down the path of that 'other' infamous demonic possession movie. But thankfully, The Last Exorcism does not. And when more folks have a chance to see it, and I can provide more commentary that isn't as spoiler-ish, I want to revisit the themes of this film. Explicitly implied or not.
Cortez the Killer
* * * *
First thing to know about The Last Exorcism is that it is not what you expect it to be. The film will, inevitably, be compared to The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and the Blair Witch Project, but it is completely different from all three. Sure, it contains elements of all three films but it is not derivative of any of them in any kind of way. It is certainly it's own film and stands tall as a strong piece of filmaking, "horror" or not. In fact, one of the things my wife and I talked about afterwards was how well done it was. The mockumentary style is tough to pull off, and unless you are Christopher Guest and have a goofy, comedic take to start with, it's usually a failed genre. Not here.
For one thing, the acting is tremendously believable and lends a lot to the authentic feel. It's set in a rural location, but the characters are not one dimensional stereotypes. They have real emotions that cause real and legitimate actions to be taken. There is very little of what I call the Standard-Dumb-Ass-Horror-Plot-Mover at work here. Meaning there are no points where a character does something completely and totally stupid for the sake of creating tension or fostering a cheap scare.
Many will be drawn to the "found footage" aspects of the movie and will come in with expectations about what the film should look like, move like, etc. Don't do that because you might miss the good points by focusing too much on the errors. As an example, don't worry that a film that is all supposedly unedited footage of an unfinished documentary has a soundtrack. It's besides the point.
What works for The Last Exorcism works really, really well. It's scary and creepy, but not overblown. It treats it's subject matter objectively and, for the most part, very realistically. The pessimism and resignation of the Pastor, who readily admits that he is a sham who has mouths to feed is countered by the fact that despite the hocus pocus, he genuinely feels that what he has done with his life has been beneficial to his "patients". The scene where he offhandedly comments that what he really needs in his life right now is health insurance is something we can all relate to. And that goes for all of the characters. You can relate to all of them in some way or other - the despondent and desperate father, the disengaged and angry son, the terrified and confused girl.
Scary and creepy it is. There are some jolts and surprises that come out of nowhere and the gore is light, but very effective. It hits you hard and surprises you. The tension level is near perfect, ebbing and rising in ways that leave you always waiting for the next surprise, but never expecting it.
And then comes the end. A lot has been said about the end and I won't spoil it for anyone. I was not happy with the ending, though not for the reasons many others are citing. I simply feel that it didn't fit with the rest of the movie. As I described to Cortez, it felt like the film became a Peter Fonda movie from the 70's - schlocky, goofy and kind of dumb. In other words, it didn't feel worthy of the rest of the film's greatness.
Still, a really effective film - smart and thoughtful, philosophic at times, and really, genuinely scary when it required it.
Last note - watch for the Dead Kennedy's reference towards the end. I'm not sure if it was intentional or just a gaff on the researchers part, but it made me smile either way.
- Complaint Dept