The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has made a tidy living preaching the Gospel and working his specialty: exorcisms. But he has lost his faith and, along with it, his willingness to fleece the gullible. He does, however, acknowledge that an exorcism can prove psychologically beneficial if the recipient believes in the ceremony. All that said, Marcus wants out of the business, but he takes on One Last Case, and a film crew tags along with him to the backwoods (where else?), where the devout Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) is convinced that his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed. Marcus slips into his routine, but soon discovers that there is is much more afoot here than he could have imagined.
The first half or so of The Last Exorcism is not without interest. It does, in some ways, handle the faith-vs-reason question more interestingly than The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and it does a credible job of gradually building suspense. But as we approach the climax, the cracks in the found-footage conceit begin to show, and the resolution blasts straight past “frightening” and into “ridiculous” and makes nonsense of the entire mockumentary premise. Maybe it’s time to retire what is rapidly becoming a tiresome cliché. In the end, then, the film is a misfire, but kudos to Ashley Bell for her disturbing physical performance – she does all the back-breaking double-jointed shenanigans without the benefit of special effects.
The image is both very gritty and very sharp. So where there is grain, it is a deliberate effect, adding to the “authenticity” of the footage. So do the colours, which are very natural. Blacks, contrasts and flesh tones are all good, too. All told, this is a transfer that looks as handsome as it can without completely shattering the illusion that what we are seeing is raw, shot-on-the-fly footage. (Too bad the script suffers no such compunction.) The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
What would an exorcism movie be without an enveloping, sinister audio track? Once more, at the technical level, The Last Exorcism delivers. The environmental effects are strong, with the sounds of the woods on all sides. The score is effectively menacing, too, and the dialogue is crystal clear. A good effort.
Commentary Tracks: Track 1 is by producers Eli Roth, Eric Neuman and Tom Bliss, and is very much an insider’s discussion of the industry. Interesting, and a reminder of just how much the business of making movies is just that: a business. Track 2 features director Daniel Stamm and cast members Bell, Fabian and Herthum. Good stuff here, too, complete with alligator anecdote.
Protection Prayer: Printed in three languages, so you’re covered.
Real Stories of Exorcism: (14:38) Ahem. Yes. “Real.” Anyway, just in case the demonic audio recordings lead to some unwelcome visitors in your soul, that’s why the above protection prayer is provided. Hilariously, the piece ends with a crawl informing us that, due to weird things that went on in production, the name of the demon in question is being withheld.
The Devil You Know: Making The Last Exorcism: (20:23) Not a bad making-of piece, though rather pleased with itself.
2009 Cannes Teaser Trailer.
Malleus Poli Daemonicus: A hand-dandy demonology booklet. Fits in your pocket!
There is a lot here that could have worked. If the whole is finally less than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are still pretty good. I don’t know that that is enough of a recommendation, however.