Director – Daniel Stamm
Cast – Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landy Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright Jr., Shanna Forrestall, Justin Shafer, Carol Sutton
Release Year – 2010
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Exorcism films are a huge selling point for the horror genre. Ever since the success of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist of 1973, exorcism films have grasped attention from audiences that some horror sub-genres can only dream of. Pretty much any demon-oriented horror film comes with an advantage because the subject matter alone does half the job of setting up the creepiness that will ensue, and the rest is up to the filmmakers to make things happen. Well, after a plethora of good demon films in the past, these last few years have brought us some unique exorcism films that look to bring new light to this old yet really seldom employed sub-genre. The Exorcism of Emily Rose gave us a horror film that plays like a good “Law & Order” episode, and now The Last Exorcism gives us a unique take on the religious aspect of exorcisms, and is told in unique fashion(for this sub-genre) as well. Unfortunately, while this film comes with several moments of brilliance, lost potential leaves this only a borderline-positive watch.
In The Last Exorcism we follow Patrick Fabian as Cotton Marcus, a prominent evangelical minister who has lost his faith in what he does and has since rescinded his ministry. Cotton now believes that those suffering from “demon possession” are merely suffering from a psychotic illness that can be fixed by having the “victim” believe they have been exorcised, thus having removed the illness. To put this to the test, Cotton agrees to have a film crew follow him as he heads south to perform an “exorcism” on a young girl named Nel. The following events prove that Cotton’s theory of exorcisms is dead wrong.
While I was not left as frustrated as many other viewers who gave this one a watch, it did frustrate me nonetheless. Why? Simply because this film had so much potential to be a fantastic watch, a fantastic PG-13(!!!) watch, but fell flat after each of its most glorious moments. The horror genre is always seeking new blood in regards to the overly cliché horror films we get in theaters these days, and The Last Exorcism had everything it needed to defy the usual Hollywood horror banter and give us what we all have been wanting to see, now let’s see where they screwed up.
Newcoming director Daniel Stamm did an OK job with the film’s direction, especially given his previous works, all short films, were not the pseudo-documentary type filmmaking as this one is. Following the likes of District 9 and The Fourth Kind, we get much of the same feel in how the film is presented to us, which I must say was a first in the realm of exorcism-based horror films. I will not say that I prefer this, because I do not, but it was nice to see something different for once. His execution during the film’s most frightening scenes was pretty well done, and he did not hold back on delivering the gore as well. The usage of shadows and lighting during such scenes set a nice creepy atmosphere for the demon-oriented scenes, which were also very well executed and visually striking, doing enough to grasp the fear of pretty much every audience member during my experience with this film. So where does this film fall short? Well…if it is not direction, it is the writing.
Writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland provided the ideas for some sweet carnage, yet unfortunately failed to capitalize on the high potential the film carried. For one, the development took way to long, and the film in fact began to drag at times. Yes, this 88 MINUTE horror film dragged, and regardless of subject matter, that is unforgivable. If this were a 105-120 minute film then I can forgive it dragging, but for a sub-90 minute film there is no excuse for them not keeping the viewer engaged, end of story. By the time things get going, the going gets good, but only for a short while and then things fall apart. Fast forward another 20 minutes and then things get good again, but only for an even shorter while, then things fall apart. That is exactly the template of what went on when we got our first dose of some good demon action. This choppy storyline really kept this experience from being an awesome film, and frankly, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. To make matters worse, we get an incredible set-up for what could have been an incredible closing sequence reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, but instead we were :SPOILER ALERT: given a cop-out climax that left me in shock(filmmaker’s obvious intention), and in all honesty quite disgusted(probably not filmmaker’s intention) given this was supposed to be a “great” film from producer Eli Roth(Director: Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel 2).
Overall, this is a borderline-positive watch that does come with some worthwhile scenes thanks to positive execution and some genuinely good ideas, but sadly the storyline failed to support these ideas and we are instead left with a film that failed to initialize on its immense potential. If you like demon/possession oriented films then this may be worth a watch to pass the time, but be forewarned, this film should have been better.