Given its creepy posters and the "Eli Roth Presents" above the title, I was quite interested in seeing The Last Exorcism when it was about to hit theatres. Then I didn't. Not sure why I skipped it at the time but I'm going to assume it had something to do with the fact this is yet another genre flick that is staged to look like a documentary film crew is following around our characters. It's a sub-genre that's become pretty stale by now but I have to give the makers credit for not going the supernatural route here. That said, while it makes for a fairly entertaining 88 minutes, there's really nothing new here and the much (negatively) talked about ending is pretty bad and throws the entire flick off track, like the finish of the third Paranormal Activity did, making everything feel like a "movie" rather than the true story vibe they are going for.
Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is quite the prodigy. Following in his father's footsteps and starting preaching at an early age, he just has a strange magnetism that draws people to him and gets a reputation of having a talent getting rid of demons. It's this supposed "talent" that draws the attention of some filmmakers and Cotton agrees to let them tag along on what's to be his last exorcism job after he is contacted by a desperate father from Ivanwood, Georgia who is convinced his teenage daughter is possessed.
It turns out that Cotton is a shyster and showman who just makes these house calls in order to make some quick cash. He rigs up his clients homes to give off the expected Exorcist inspired vibes and talks quite the talk to convince them he's expelled their demons. Seeing as it's all a sham he's about to be surprised when he's drawn into the life of sixteen-year-old Nell (Ashley Bell), her highly religious father (Louis Herthum), and her doubtful brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones).
After working his fake magic, Cotton thinks he's finished with the Sweetzer family but when Nell shows up at his hotel later that night he's drawn back into true horror when it actually seems she's possessed by the ancient demon Abalam. He has to call on his wavering faith to try and save her as the cameras continue to roll giving director Daniel Stamm the chance to build up some decent creepy mood, throw in a few mild jump scares, have an effective sequence set in the barn involving bodily contortions and harm, and completely shit the bed with the last five minutes.
As the charismatic, slick talking Cotton, Fabian does a good job establishing his character and I liked how the script takes a few jabs at religion at the same time by showing him rigging up fishing line to make pictures shudder and has him hiding sound effects down his sleeves. The rest of the cast is solid with Herthum making a convincing fanatical father and Jones spending a lot of time giving suspicious glances before disappearing for a good chunk of the action. It's Bell who fares best and even if she never comes close to matching Linda Blair's turn in The Exorcist she does a fine job bouncing between Nell's innocence, confused moments, and gleeful malice.
The Last Exorcism doesn't set out to re-invent anything. It's just here to give us a few quick jolts and, in that respect, it does it decently enough. I never found myself bored, despite the fact it takes almost an hour to really get rolling, and even if I could've done without the weak finish there was enough going on to keep me watching. A sequel arrived in 2013 that brings back Bell's Nell as she deals with the aftermath and another demonic visitation - it just sounds so unnecessary. Having Roth as a producer probably gave this more exposure than it would've otherwise received but I think it's about time his cannibal flick, The Green Inferno, was released already so we can be sure that the Hostel movies weren't a fluke. (Chris Hartley, 3/27/14)
Directed By: Daniel Stamm.
Written By: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland.
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum.