Monday, January 30, 2012

The Last Exorcism - Back For Another...

The Last Exorcism: Starring Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell | A Constantly Racing Mind I  notice trends.  With "The Devil Inside," still in theaters. The mood for horror, and the sub-genre of  "found footage" is rising.  William Brent Bell's "The Devil Inside," although in my mind, is a a poorly written story, is actually doing well financially. The reason, I believe, is that it only cost $1 million to produce, and a constant promotion of it being a "true story,"  people go to the theater hoping to see something more than what this genre has offered in the past. So far TDI has made about $52,703,000 domestically.  

On the other hand, a different film within the same genre of horror - found-footage that I think deserves some attention is the The Last Exorcism - 2010. After watching Apollo 18, and the "Paranormal Activity" series, I think that TLE is a much better film.  During its 6 week theatrical release TLE brought in about $67,738,090.

The Review:

In the film world, there is a relatively new subgenre of horror, called "found footage." As I am not a fan of this genre in general, however, I do think that some films that fall in this category are better than others. In the case of "The Last Exorcism," I think that this is actually one of the better ones. As a filmgoer, it is up to us to suspend belief for some time, but not without reason. Most films of this subgenre ask us to forget how this found footage was found. Who edited it? Why are there actors listed at the end? Why is there music? Also, in the horror genre there is what I call the possession subgenre. Films like the "Exorcist," "Haunting in Connecticut," "Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist," "Insidious," and "The Rite" to name a few are in this category.

TV actor Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus (think Cotton Mather the Salem witch hunter), an Exorcist, and Pastor of a small church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The film is done documentary style with Iris Bahr as Iris the director/sound person interacting with Cotton as he confesses to the camera that he is a charlatan, a fake, and in his heart Cotton knows that he lacks true faith in God. German director, Daniel Stamm, takes some time developing Cotton's character. We see interviews with his wife, scenes of Cotton interacting with his deaf child Justin (Justin Shafer). We see him now more as a family man and now and we start to relate to him. Conflicted, Cotton then goes on to defend his practice as doing a sort of psychological good for those who call upon his service. Sort of like a mental placebo for those who needs to console themselves that they are not bad people, but it was the devil that made them do it. Taking on one last case, Cotton tells Iris, that he will prove how he fakes exorcisms. 

The Last Exorcism: Cotton Marcus exorcises a demon from Nell Sweetzer | A Constantly Racing MindAfter briefly reading about a new case, (he actually just skims it), he, and Iris along with their camera operator, Daniel (Adam Grimes), embarks to a small town a few hours away. Along the way, Cotton, as part of the documentary sets the mood as they travel to the backwoods area. As Lovecraft would describe the rural areas in his stories, Cotton talks about going back in time, both in architecture, but in mindset. Talking about Voodoo, superstition, and the Pentecostals (alluding to the snake handlers) Cotton sets the stage for what we are to expect. 

What he finds is the dysfunctional Sweetzer family. Secluded in the rural depths of Louisiana, the father, Louis (Louis Herthum) is a crusty widower who is raising his two teenage kids. His son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) is rude and cynical as he tells Cotton and his crew to go home. Finally we meet possessed, Nell (Ashley Bell). Ashley seems innocent and naive, but as we all know, looks are deceiving. What is different about the direction of this film is the pacing. The director, doesn't rush, but he doesn't dwell on shots too long either. Cotton demonstrates how he sets up the fake exorcisms and the gadgetry he uses. In staying with the documentary style, the camera is hand held but never annoying. 

Without going in too much detail, I can tell you that the plot is not what anybody thinks it is. Is this truly demonic possession; or is this a case of mental illness? The clues that ensue through the second half of the film are clever, and they allow the audience to mentally run ahead and try to out - guess the director and the outcome of the film. However, when you look back you can see that the director gave you good clues in the story, and the how the characters interact. Ashley Bell, as the possessed child, while not on par with Linda Blair's performance in the "Exorcist." However, Bell is outstanding nonetheless, and unnerving. She goes from innocent and naive to the demon Abalam in a matter of seconds. Patrick Fabian's performance as the disillusioned minister, is not only believable, but comes across as honest. 

Forget about the found footage nonsense, and go with documentary style as we evaluate the photography. Running around while filming is not uncommon. I have done it. While the camera shakes to some degree, it serves the purpose in getting the documentary across. The ending, I think, is better than most of these types of films in that you do know what happens to the characters rather than just ending with a crash or a sudden abrupt ending. 

Recent films like "Rec," "Paranormal Activity," "Apollo 18," and "The Devil Inside" give us reason to pause and think about a film that I think stands out in this sub-genre  I won't mention the founding film "The Blair Witch Project." Okay, so I mentioned it. However, I think that "The Last Exorcism" does stand out in concept, story, acting, and general creepiness.

Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Year: 2010
Staring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, 
Director: Daniel Stamm
Producer(s): Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
Writer: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: 8/27/2010 

Originally published on Associated Content 2011

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