Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Last Exorcism (2010): or, He Puts on a Hell of a Show

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 21!

Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), former child preacher and the last in a long line of evangelical exorcists, invites a film crew along to document all the hocus pocus that goes on behind the scenes. It seems the good reverend has lost his faith--while he still believes he provides a service for his flock, giving them the mystical experience they psychologically crave, he does not see himself as anything more than a showman and second-tier magician. Picking a letter at random from his pile of requests, Marcus and crew go to rural Louisiana to help Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), whom her widowed and Bible-obsessed father Louis (Louis Herthum) insists is possessed by the Devil. Marcus gives the yokels the whole show, and seems to cure Nell's ills. But soon the preacher discovers that there might be something to all this exorcism business after all...

The Last Exorcism (2010) does a lot of things I liked, and does them very well. The set-up of a revivalist preacher documenting his own hokum is taken directly from Marjoe (1972), the fascinating documentary about child-preacher and later B-movie star Marjoe Gortner.* Certain early scenes and even some of the dialogue seem to be direct quotes of that movie. Director Daniel Stamm lets the mystery of what's happening to Nell unfold slowly, rushing directly to the neck-snapping exorcism business, but still dropping enough clues and stingers along the way to keep the viewer engaged--unlike some recent horror flicks. The script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland is intelligent and intriguing--and I don't want to spoil the ultimate solution to Nell's troubles, but it was shocking in a way that still made sense with what had come before, and sent me into the end credits with an appreciative smile.

*And a highly recommended viewing in its own right.

The acting is great from top to bottom. Fabian plays Cotton Marcus as a charismatic, sardonic but lovable rogue, a man who knows he's full of it but nonetheless genuinely seems to care about the people who come to him for help. Bell's Nell (ha!) is wonderful--all fresh and innocent and giggly at the beginning, throwing her later sinister turn in stark relief. (According to imdb trivia, Bell also did all the amazing, poster-spoiled contortions herself, without the aid of special effects.) Herthum makes a great menacing, possibly not so well-meaning dad, and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class's Banshee) gives a nice performance as Nell's brother.

Put simply, The Last Exorcism is one of the best recent horror films I've seen in a long time. A fresh look at the "possession" subgenre--a stylish, entertaining and even frightening film. 3 thumbs. Recommended.

On third and short, the Devil shows Blitz.


raculfright_13 said...

I honestly thought this was going to be awful but when I saw it... Wow! I liked it. Very satanic and awesome.

The Artist Formerly Known as J. Astro said...

Agreed all around. This was a nice surprise. Very strong performances and less derivative of typical "exorcism" tropes than I expected/feared. The end was more reminiscent of something like RACE WITH THE DEVIL, I thought.

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