Toronto After Dark: The Last Exorcism Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

The Last Exorcism, the Eli Roth produced independent horror film which made its Toronto debut at the After Dark film festival last night, is a gem in the rocky ground of recent American studio genre pictures. It’s a slow-building, character-based story filled with atmosphere, spookiness and actual dread. Building on the concept of a documentary team following a preacher on “one last exorcism”, it adds music and sound effects to increase tension to move towards an ending that is both unexpected and foreshadowed. If it didn’t quite go where I wanted it to after the halfway mark and even if it occasionally pulls you out of the movie by breaking its single camera rules, this is certainly one of the best of the American horrors released in the last few years.

Preacher Cotton Marcus is a charismatic man who has been preaching to the converted since he was a young boy. He has easy charm and an even easier smile that helps win his audience over while he sermonizes, prays, heals and exorcises. He’s quite charming and the viewing audience is also easily won over to him – particularly since he has invited the documentary crew on this final exorcism (chosen randomly from the stacks of requests he gets) to show everyone the falseness of the tactic and the tricks he has employed to convince people he has rid them of the devil. He still sees that he has done some good since these people still believe that he has helped them and manage to get on with their lives, but his own faith has been shaken due to events in his life and he simply can’t go through with the charades anymore. The film really allows us to spend a good chunk of time with Cotton and his family before they hit the road to a small Louisiana town to find poor possessed young Nell.

 

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The film continues with its strengths here. Nell (Ashley Bell), her father (Louis Herthum), her brother (Caled Landry Jones) and Cotton (Patrick Fabian) are all given space to create real characters with motivations and personalities before things start to go all haywire. Cotton initially goes through with his regular schtick with Nell and as far as they can all see, everything works, everybody is happy and Cotton’s confession to the camera is done (the film is clever in how it shows his tricks of the trade). However, Cotton’s got more work ahead of him – both in relation to helping Nell as well as with his own confessions. That’s yet another strength of the film’s script as it lays out Cotton’s own story, his crisis of faith and a possible chance for him to regain it.

If I had one issue with the film it’s that it didn’t continue to do what it was doing best – provide spooky moments. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fully satisfying film, but since it handled some early eerie scenes so well, I had really wanted more. They were there for sure, but since I’ve been a bit starved of that kind of quality spookiness of late, I was feeling greedy. In essence, my one complaint against the film is actually a compliment. Nell’s transformations, her sudden appearances in shadowed hallways and behind windows, and the variety of noises emanating from her room all meshed together to form an extremely unsettling experience. It was an interesting choice to add a soundtrack to the film as it then implies that the footage was constructed and edited together later on – which goes a bit against several scenes where we see the camera turn off and on – but it adds a great deal to the uneasiness the audience feels. Even the fact that there would have to have been two cameras filming several of these scenes can’t take away from the film (though it does pull you out for a few seconds when you notice it) since the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to create a story and characters you care about, so that you really feel the effects of what slowly happens around them. And that’s scary.

Bob Turnbull
Critical Thinker At Large

13 Comments

  1. Everybody seems to be using John's review of the film to discuss, so thanks for stopping by mine Matt…B-)

    Yeah, it is pretty strong isn't it? The breaks in the 1 camera setup (and things like an additional soundtrack) ended up not bothering me as much as you might expect.

    Reply
  2. I think LAST EXORCISM (one could make an argument for District 9 as well) has entered the Post-FoundFootage era, where the aesthetic is more important than the veracity?

    or is this too much wankery to get into on a Monday morning?

    Reply
  3. Wank away Kurt…

    I think the filmmakers really liked the found footage concept, but wanted to bring more of that elusive "atmosphere" to it – hence the soundtrack. But they also wanted some more playfulness and to make it look somewhat like a doc (hence the edit to the earlier prep for the exorcism scene). I can't quite reconcile the 2 camera setup stuff, but I can let it go due to how invested I was by that point.

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  4. I don't see that as a necessarily a bad thing in the movie (although occasionally it was distracting.) Yet for some reason I had an issues with the very same thing in the last act of District 9. Both The Last Exorcism and District 9 became films that I didn't really want them to be when they had novel, offbeat and interesting 1st acts!

    That being said, they are both fine movies.

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  5. Where was the two camera stuff? I know there were some moments when they were meeting in the living room and the camera was cutting around (including some reaction shots) but this is pretty standard in single cam docs. I can attest to the fact that with a little creative editing (and some foresight during the shoot) it's very easy to make a single camera shoot look like two cameras.

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  6. Hi Jay…Yeah, it's really only the living room stuff. Like I said, it doesn't bug me (because I was invested in the story and characters), but I noticed it. The audio was pretty continuous – even if it was possible to do that with one camera, it sure feels like two and is a bit distracting.

    But yeah, it was really only that section I think. It's the kind of thing people who don't like the film will pick on and people who do like the film will give a pass to. It shouldn't be the main cause of anyone's feelings though.

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  7. The thing that bothered me the most about that scene wasn't the cutting around the living room but rather the fact that the boom operator for the documentary was standing in the corner not doing her job! Any real filmmaker/boom operator would be making sure they're getting sweet f'n audio on that shit!

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  8. Since when is Cantankerous the equivalent of a $1.8M film?

    First, Jay says any, which means every film maker, regardless of the price point, would make sure to get "sweet f'n audio".

    And while this point is unescessary given the first point, the film makers in the film are not making a $1.8 million dollar film. The people who re-edited the found footage are.

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  9. I'll put an end to this…MATTHEW, CANTANKEROUS ISN'T A FILLMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

    Again, the multi-angle camera stuff I can buy but it was just that one shot of her standing there with the boom mic beside her that bugged me. Maybe she didn't know the camera operator was filming. Unlike Blair Witch, this film didn't have any clear 'director' that was really pushing for the story. The 'filmmakers' seemed quite casual about the project. Maybe BWP captures the intensity of a passionate group of film students and The Last Exorcism captures the lackadaisical nature of some industry jobbers.

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  10. MATTHEW, CANTANKEROUS ISN’T A FILLMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

    First off, their is at least two episodes that would argue otherwise, and secondly, aren't you a filmmaker?

    You're the dipshit that made the declarative statement, not me.

    XOXO

    Reply

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