Horror. Worldview. Faith.

The Last Exorcism – Review (second opinion)

The Last Exorcism – Review (second opinion)

Sep 1, 2010

reviewed by Skot
directed by Daniel Stamm, 2010
(read Melissa’s review here)

If you believe in God, you have to believe in the Devil.”  Or so said the reverend Cotton Marcus in Eli Roth’s new movie, The Last Exorcism.  That’s even the tagline on some of the move posters.  Actually, I think he’s got it wrong.  It should be the other way around: “if you believe in the Devil, then you must believe in God.”  And this is the point the movie ends up making.

What should we make of the movie poster with a crucifix and the words, “Believe in Him” above it?  The girl in the poster is bowing in submission, though contorted into a grotesque version of a believer paying devotion before the symbol of the Lord.  Pictures mean things.  And I’m still wondering what this one means.

Cotton Marcus is the magnetic pastor of a pentecostal-ish congregation in the deep South.  He started preaching in his dad’s church when he was 8 years old.  He’s a born performer.  Doing exorcisms has been a family ministry, passed from father to son, for generations.  However, during a family crisis, Cotton discovers that his faith is lost.  He continued the charade of his ministry, even the exorcisms, because. . . well, it’s a living.  And besides, he figured he was basically helping people.  Things change again when he learns of an episode where a child is accidentally killed during an exorcism.  This is his turning point.  Cotton decides to blow his own cover by performing one last exorcism with a documentary film crew recording his spiritual warfare sleight of hand.  The minister randomly chooses one of the frequent letters he receives from troubled souls requesting his services and off they go.

They arrive at the Sweetzer farm in poor rural Louisiana where they meet Nell, an angelically innocent girl whose father is convinced she is inhabited by the Devil.  Cotton employs his usual tricks, allowing the camera see how he does things behind the scenes.  Things get interesting when the counterfeit demon slayer comes up against something real.

To say more about the plot would be to give too much away.  The central question is whether the devil is real and, if so, what implications should this have on one’s belief in God.

When I heard that Eli Roth was producing The Last Exorcism, I expected more than I got, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Actually, I appreciate the comparative restraint this movie exercises.  Too many occult themed movies feel the need to top the last in terms of shock and awe, leading many into the realm of the absurd.  A general rule of thumb for storytellers is to show, not to tell.  But one can show too much.  Equally important to restraint and good editing is timing.  If you must show, then do so at the exact best time to have the greatest impact.

Many people I’ve talked to say they disliked the ending.  The director definitely took a risk.  In my opinion, the ending is not entirely satisfying, but it wasn’t  a total miss.  I needed just a little bit more.  The film is good, not great.  It takes the increasingly popular found footage approach, which still works for me.

Take a little bit Rosemary’s Baby, a little bit The Exorcist, a little bit Blair Witch Project and more than a smidge of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  Stir them on a low heat and you get this new film.  The Last Exorcism is not nearly as good as any of the above mentioned projects, but is still probably better than most occult-themed films.

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