Review: The Last Exorcism is a True Exercise in Great Horror

August 31, 2010

The Last Exorcism

Amidst the bland cavalcade of stagnant horror movies, there is one sub-genre (or film style, depending on how you view it) that doesn't seem to ever be tiring. No matter how stale the narratives get, the style of the mockumentary or "found footage" horror film hasn't hit the cinematic brick wall yet. Sure, there are those who complain about it, that it's overused or that it's never as effective as straight, smooth filmmaking. Yet, since The Blair Witch Project hit theaters in 1999, there have been films of this ilk that have consistently found their audience and brought out the best in fright the style has to offer.

The latest such film that rides right along that path is The Last Exorcism, a faux documentary style horror film that offers genuine scares, highly engrossing atmosphere, and a story that is as far from cookie cutter as you can get.

It's about much more than a documentary crew wanting to cover a priest's latest exorcism. The priest at the center of the film is Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian. He has performed over a hundred exorcisms on people who feel their bodies are being inhabited by demons or even the devil himself. The one thing about Cotton, though, is that he doesn't believe in demonic possession. He is a priest who, after the birth and eventual poor health of his son, is finding it harder and harder to believe in the higher power he so vehemently preaches. When it is learned that people may, in fact, be getting harmed from the fake exorcisms being performed, he decides it is time to shelve the holy water, hang up the cross, and allow a film crew to document just how he does it.

This is all built up in the film's first quarter, and it sets an incredible tone for the characters that are to be portrayed in the film. Nothing horrific occurs in the opening, and, if you didn't know precisely what film you were watching, you would swear you were watching a real documentary about a man who decides it is time to move on from the life he has been living.

Director Daniel Stamm and the screenwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland do a fine job building Cotton's character up. Likewise, Fabian is completely solid in his portrayal here. Cotton is a character you sympathize with. You understand why he does what he does and why he feels he must come clean to the world about it. Even if you don't agree with his motives, you still have no qualms understanding them.

The real horrors come later as Cotton and the film crew travel to the titular last exorcism. It involves a young girl living with her father and brother deep in the back woods of Louisiana. They are a particularly devout family, so they have are fully in Cotton's hold as he goes through the motions of performing the exorcism on the girl. Then, after everything seems to go as planned, the real horrors begin.

The Last Exorcism is a horror film that utilizes both the commonplace jump scares but also one that builds a terrific atmosphere. The setting is muggy. The homes are the broken down homes of Louisiana you might see sitting in the tall grass as you travel the back roads of the deep South. It all feels real, so, once the scares begin, whether you know full well it is all made up or not, you are left unnerved and unsure of what is about to happen next.

Stamm and crew continuously move the story forward. It never gets bogged down in a swamp of needless exposition or revisiting of the same scare over and over again. Very early into the last half of the film, we realize full well the dangers involved in staying in the house and who the culprit is behind those dangers. In one of the film's more terrifying moments, the young girl, played to unsettling effect by Ashley Bell, takes the crew's camera with her on one of her late night escapades. What transpires is entirely horrifying yet cleverly shot in what it shows, what it doesn't show, what it keeps in full focus, and what it lets stay blurred out just enough. It's without a doubt the scariest moment of a film filled with heart-pounding terrors.

With an excellent setup, solid build throughout, and some of the best uses of atmosphere and sound seen in recent horror films, you would hope for a breathtaking yet absolutely revelatory ending. Unfortunately, that's not found here. It's on paper. What transpires really isn't the issue. It's the way it is presented, almost matter of factly that provides very little impact. When Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity had their final moments, they were shocking yet logical endings that left you completely uncomfortable, perfect for the drive home late at night. That same feeling is missing in The Last Exorcism, and, sadly, the best moments of the film are buried deep within the confines of the middle section.

It's also hard with these films to understand the camera man's motives. Sure, they're a film crew. They are filming a documentary. However, once someone begins chasing you with a shotgun or an ax, it's probably not the best time to worry about your Best Documentary Oscar acceptance speech, put down the damn camera, and run. Not found here, but, for the sake of capturing everything on film, it's almost forgivable.

The Last Exorcism is a breath of fresh air for horror fans, a highly effective thriller that offers great scares, great atmosphere, and presents a story that is much deeper than your average slasher or ghost story. It's a thrilling good time that makes you turn on the lights in your house once you get home from the theater, an effect that hasn't been found since… well, the last found footage movie about demons and exorcisms. It's a style of film making that is still in full swing, but, as long as the scares and story continue to hit as accurately as The Last Exorcism, it's not one I want exorcised out of the film industry for a long while.

Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10

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I liked It!!

Adrian C. on Aug 31, 2010


i liked it to, the ending where they all die and u are left to wonder if the fire demon kills the preacher is very intriguing. I would have been really mad if it would have ended when they left the farm the last time. besides that cat getting massacred the rest was semi boring, but the ending was like -click- to me, it fulfilled the desires of a horror movie for me. HUGE fire demon, Satanic cults, the girls drawing  of the preacher standing in front of the massive fire, the camera lady getting chopped into pieces, the camerman getting his head cut off, Pro ;D

Brutal on May 30, 2011


Super film! Eli Roth is a genius!

Lincoln on Aug 31, 2010


This was a crappy movie.

sharts on Aug 31, 2010


Ugh, really? You had to use a pun in the last line? And why is it you insist that the documentary style used in The Last Exorcism and Paranormal Activity is the only way to make a successful horror movie nowadays? If anything that particular style is, as you suggested, overused. Plus, it's manipulative. The only reason people go to see movies which employ such a style is for shock value. To put it another way, the only reason people go to see movies like that is the same reason people watch bum fights or be-headings on YouTube. I'm still going to go see this movie and appreciate it for what it is, but let's not claim that the success and artistry of a horror film is dependent on the documentary technique.

Bee on Aug 31, 2010


Well done, Mr. Kirk. You actually made me want to see this whereas before I had absolutely not interest. And I'm thinking that since my expectations for the end are so low I might actually enjoy it more.

Traveler on Aug 31, 2010


Good Movie but the Ending SUCKED ASS!

ModernRock on Aug 31, 2010


This was simply a bad movie. You've all seen the trailers, they make it out to be a horror movie along the lines of paranormal activity. What you don't realize, however, is that 90% of the material in the trailers is cut from a 10 minute segment of the movie and the rest of the film is entirely bereft of any fright factor whatsoever. I was actually more freaked out by the trailer for "Let Me In" they showed before the movie began. Furthermore, the ending was terrible. The movie raises quite a few questions that you'll expect an answer to, and then ends without answering a single one. It's as if the writer/director got bored after filming the first 90 minutes (talk about a short movie) and simply ended the movie in lieu of actually thinking up a fitting conclusion.

The G on Sep 1, 2010


@The G I haven't seen this yet but what you said reminds me of another major disappointment where the best scenes in the whole movie were in the trailer. Legions. God that movie sucked so bad. If you saw the trailer with the Granny in the diner and the ice cream truck man, you basically saw the best part of that crappy film.

JimD on Sep 1, 2010


Nowhere near as effective as Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity but def not the worst thing I've seen.

Alex on Sep 1, 2010


I liked this movie a lot the first time I saw it 20 years ago when it was called Rosemary's Baby.

Brian Ricci on Sep 1, 2010


@ The G I completely agree saw this last week and it was a complete let down. Ending was terrible, questions left unanswered and all the "scary" parts were shown in the trailer.

David on Sep 4, 2010


This I would have to disagree with you on, I was highly upset and disappointed with this crappy viral generation version of Rosemary's Baby. By the end of the movie I was really hoping that it would pay out and be worth the time I had already wasted. So I stay into the movie until near the end when they go back to the house after finally departing, which they were so desperate to do a few scenes prior, where they walk back into her doodled up room with a bunch of gibberish caked on the walls in which they couldnt even get the sigil of baphomet correct. At that point I was giggling until they wander out into the woods, where the Cotton character turns into Gandalf and walks towards the flames as if about to shout "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!," then I was just laughing my way to the exit. I just didnt buy it and it had lost all credibility at that point.

Hairu on Sep 6, 2010


Believing in God means believing in the existence of the devil. Spanish exorcist Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea Cucurull stated in an interview recently that though Satan does indeed exist, he does not have “horns, wings or a tail.” Read this milestone book on demonology and diabolic possession by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Rome's chief exorcist - An Exorcist Tells His Story Fr. Gabriele Amorth is also the honorary life president of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded. Watch this ABC News' 20/20 documentary showing a real exorcism.

Andy Stone on Sep 30, 2010


Well, all things considered...

free rapidshare premium accounts on Dec 1, 2010


Ok, i don't know what the hell you have been smoking, Mr. Jeremy, but fuck you, this movie was a complete waste of fucking time. The trailer showed all the good parts, which were pretty lame, and the whole movie was like watching the shitfest called Quarantine only with more shit up the ass! Seriously, anyone who had to watch that movie because of reviews like this, i feel sorry for you for watching a movie that horrible, but anybody who liked it can kiss my ass.

Jacky on Feb 20, 2011


Interesting review, couple good points. I really enjoyed the ending and thought that it helped bring the movie together, even though it did raise a few questions (like how did the tape get from the camera to the media?), but it was definitely an entertaining horror flick. I gave the movie a B in my review for, and I stand by the rating. You can read my review, if you're interested, at on May 8, 2011

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