Sunday, 5 February 2012

Film Review | The Last Exorcism (2010)

Any new entry into the horror subgenre of possession and exorcism films has the unenviable task of being compared to the pinnacle of this particular collection, 1973's The Exorcist. Widely regarded now as one of the best horror films ever made, The Exorcist is both a hard act to follow, and potentially even harder not to borrow from heavily. Many of the exorcism and possession tropes seen in popular culture come from the film (think spinning heads and pea soup projectile vomiting), and exorcism films made since have barely made a mark on modern cinema. Unfortunately, The Last Exorcism isn't likely to buck that trend.

Presented in a documentary style, the film follows Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a disillusioned pastor experienced in performing exorcisms who agrees to take part in a film exposing the hokum he believes all exorcisms are. Marcus travels to the farm of Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) after selecting his letter asking for help as his last exorcism, where he also meets Nell (Ashley Bell), Louis' daughter whom Louis believes to be possessed by a demon.

Essentially, The Last Exorcism is a fairly straightforward exorcism film, which in many ways doesn't stray too far from the beaten track. Influence from The Exorcist is clearly seen - it's a girl who's possessed, the specific demon possessing her named. The main way in which director Daniel Stamm attempts to bring a fresh approach to the genre is through the "found footage" style he adopts throughout. The footage we are watching is the film Marcus agreed to take part in, complete with arguments over whether filming is allowed at the Sweetzer farm as well as other locations. Stamm at best brings nothing new to his chosen style, and at worst feels downright ham-fisted in its execution. The film's constant handheld camera footage doesn't always marry with the other choices Stamm makes. His use of incidental and background music is sporadic and haphazard, jarring realism with stereotypical horror conventions and ultimately providing an uneven and unsatisfying final product.

The cast's performances too waver from pedesrian to hammy. Fabian as Marcus never truly connects, which is a big problem seeing as he is the audience's main guide through the events of the film. I felt nothing for him, sapping the story of emotion and leaving the film's concluding act incredibly anticlimactic. The rest of the cast too are satisfactory at best, with none of them getting anywhere near the authenticity needed to make Stamm's real life method work. Only Bell deserves to be singled out somewhat, providing the film's only genuinely creepy moments, of which there are far too few.

The pacing throughout is also not great. Stamm takes too long setting up Marcus in a sluggish opening fifteen minutes. Things pick up when we reach the Sweetzer farm up until Nell's exorcism, only to then go round in circles taking an awfully long time to tell us not very much. After keeping things far too slow, Stamm then manages to rush sloppily through the underwhelming and disconnected finale, introducing new elements and information as if he'd forgotten to include them earlier.

In fact, if you are planning on watching The Last Exorcism, I'll give you this advice: pay attention to what the "vox pop" locals say to Marcus when he first arrives in the sleepy town where Louis and Nell live. It's seemingly the only lip service this important plot element receives, and without it the closing scenes are likely to feel like a complete slap in the face. That said, even with it, you're only softening the blow a little. To be honest, you'd be altogether better off watching a better film instead.


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