Director: Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death, Off Hollywood and Vine)
Writers: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Producers: Marc Abraham, Thomas Bliss, Eli Roth, Eric Newman
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 87 min.
Last night prior to watching The Last Exorcism I was commenting on how I needed to move a bit away from the comedic horrors a bit as the early part of Toronto After Dark was fairly top heavy. I was also chatting about how my previous visit to the festival had provided me with a few of my top 10 films for 2007 and I was not sure if this years line was going to provide me with a film strong enough to make the list. I am now eating my words. Walking out of the theatre I had a new horror movie to add to my list of all time favorites and since last night I have been thinking about the film and I am loving everything about it more and more.
The Last Exorcism is the story of a disillusioned Minister who after hearing about a death of a child during an exorcism has decided to tell the world through a documentary about how the whole exorcism thing is a setup and how it should be stopped. He wants to do one last exorcism for the documentary. He randomly picks a letter and heads off with the crew only to discover much more than he bargained for.
I can totally understand the studio wanting to put bums in the seats but the trailer they cut will do just that but the trailer really does a disservice to how strong a movie The Last Exorcism is as it makes it look just like the typical jump scare horror flick. Minister Cotton Marcus (played perfectly by Patrick Fabian) is as much a showman as a Minister. He was groomed by his Minister father to take over the Church and he does it perfectly. He can play the church goers and can get their money out of them through his rousing sermons and his showmanship. He sees himself as someone who provides his parishioners a service and they pay for it. Similarly he was taught by his father to perform exorcisms. He admits to the camera that the exorcisms are a sham but he also tells how he helps people by providing them what they need.
Cotton and the documentary filmmakers arrive at the isolated farm to find a father (Louis Herthum) who is unable to free himself from the grief of losing his wife to Cancer and has kept his daughter, Nell (Ashey Bell) home in order to protect her from the evils of the outside world. He even went so far as to remove her from Sunday School as he did not agree with the music that was being played. Also part of the family is the son who initially wants to drive Cotton away but see’s through his scam and is resigned to just sit back and laugh at the situation. What Cotton and the crew find is that someone is ripping apart the farm animals and that each time it happens Nell is covered in blood but does not remember anything.
The tension builds as Cotton tries to cure Nell through an exorcism and when everything seems to be fixed through smoke and mirrors Cotton and the crew leave but are dragged back in. Is Nell really suffering a possession or is she reacting to some for of abuse, and needs psychological help? This is the mystery that Cotton has to solve. The reason I love The Last Exorcism is how it manages to build tension through really strong acting by Bell, Herthum and Fabian. Yes there are a few jump scares but it is just watching these characters go through the horror of what is going on is what really makes the film a success.
After the movie there was Q&A with Eli Roth and one question stood out for me as well as the answer provided by Roth and Fabian. “How has the movie been playing in the more religious communities.” The answer was, “rather well,” because the movie is not so much putting down organized religion; in many ways it actually is doing the opposite. Cotton is in effect performing a confessional by doing this documentary. He is a good man who wants to help people. When talking with the father Cotton urges the father to seek psychiatric help with Nell and by the end of the movie Cotton’s belief has been reaffirmed.
The Last Exorcism is a perfect example of why horror movies do not need to be the standard slasher killing teenagers. It has such a strong story with equally as strong acting that just highlights the inadequacies of the teen slasher flicks. The tension that is built throughout the the last two thirds of the film is nail blighting without relying on huge amounts of unearned jump scares and the conclusion is obvious once you are able to put all the pieces together but you don’t see it coming at all. The Last Exorcism belongs in the pantheon of classic horror movies. Just ignore the trailer and go in and be thoroughly scared and entertained.