THE LAST EXORCISM – two reviews, Steve Friedel and Gary Murray

THE LAST EXORCISM – two reviews, Steve Friedel and Gary Murray

The Eli Roth-produced exorcism flick gets two reviews this week…



Review by Steve Friedel

The Last Exorcism, you say? How about The Blair Witch Project: Crazy Redheads in the Louisiana Bayous? Consider this: I saw very little originality in this short 88-minute “experiment”… period. And producer Eli Roth (Sgt. Donny Donowitz from Inglourious Basterds) is going to have a helluva time fending off the comparisons to be sure.

In place of three dim-witted young morons heading into the forest to prove (or disprove) the legend of a local witch, we’ve got three dim-witted adults — one a Doubting Thomas evangelical minister named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian, from HBO-TV’s “Big Love”), his clueless documentarian Iris (Iris Bahr, Fair Game), and the never-seen, seldom-heard camera guy Daniel (Adam Grimes, LA I.C.E.). Cotton has somehow convinced Iris and Dan that he’s actually interesting enough to make a movie about, even employing his doting wife and half-deaf child in the first few moments to “get a sense” of Family Man Cotton (oooh… the guy’s a player). But, specifically, the documentary is meant to delve into Cotton’s experiences with the occult and exorcism, the goal being to film him performing the ancient ritual on a stricken young girl named Nell (Ashley Bell, from Showtime-TV’s “United States of Tara”) at the behest of her desperate father Louis (Louis Herthum, 12 Rounds) — said “redheads” in question. Besides a brief tense encounter with Louis’s son Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones, The Longshots) on the way to the family swamp house, Cotton thinks it’s just another routine pastoral visit — he’s obviously seen it too many times to count. He preps and puts on his “show” (the best part of the film hands-down), Nell believes she’s been cured (a sort of elaborate placebo, if you will), Louis is grateful (in the form of a nice fan of cash for Cotton), and that’s pretty much a wrap.

Well… until Nell shows up in Cotton’s hotel room (several miles from her house and with no knowledge of where he’s staying) foaming at the mouth (no pea soup this time, thankfully, but possibly cream o’ wheat) and staring blankly into space. Of course, the documentary trio is pretty freaked out by this (and so, that “fake urgency” I hate so much starts up), and they try to admit her for psychiatric care. But the backwoods Louis won’t have any part of that — considering a whole bunch of doctors couldn’t save his beloved wife from cancer (a poor homage, intentional or otherwise, to Ellen Burstyn’s “88 doctors” rant in the so-much-better-I-was-hesistant-to-mention-it-as-a-comparison The Exorcist) — and opts to take Nell home immediately. And then the stuff starts to hit the fan; it becomes more apparent to Cotton that this is no ordinary situation, Nell’s exhibiting some truly astonishing behavior (well, “astonishing” to Cotton and his crew), unexplained sounds emanate from her room, Cotton tries unsuccessfully to convince Louis to get Nell to a hospital, Caleb is later badly injured by his sister, but for some reason Louis has no hesitation in taking his son to the emergency room (OK, not a deal-breaking issue to be sure). So while Louis and Caleb are away, Nell continues her strange, downward spiral (as does the weak story), Cotton elicits the help of the family’s former pastor (Tony Bentley, The Bad Lieutenant 2), and then this thing — which still had me somewhat on the hook (though I wasn’t as creeped out by it as I wanted to be) — just takes a mighty header of a fall with an ending so ludicrous and laughable, I was doing FAR more eye-rolling than Nell was. UGH! And, yes, the final scene does show a wildly out of control hand-held camera; where that technique worked for Blair Witch, it feels more like a massive cop-out here. My question for director Daniel Stamm is “This horse has already been beaten to death and buried several times over. You got anything else?”

As I mentioned, there were moments (too few to bring up) early on in Last Exorcism where I absolutely wanted to believe that what I was viewing was something unique and imaginative. But as I watched the grind of the Cotton’s character development shift to an almost comedic center, I began to realize this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped to find. And when things got really serious (or at least that’s what we were supposed to experience), there was an almost deadened, too-late-in-coming feeling of dread — followed quickly by that very familiar “been there / done that” ultimate disappointment. I would even go so far as to use “ultimate betrayal” because, yet again, we’re stuck with a film that’s got loads of potential only to completely devolve into flash-in-the-pan drudgery.

Let me just comment here that the aforementioned The Exorcist will NEVER be topped. That is not to say that this was the only intention of Stamm or his crew, but they had to’ve been thinking about it while in production (what director in their right mind wouldn’t be thinking about that?). But here’s where you’re going to fail in that respect every single time. Point #1: The Exorcist is from an era of cinema (the 70s) where filmmakers were absolutely unafraid to take unabashed risks — The Godfather Parts I and II? Star Wars? The French Connection? Alien? Jaws? Close Encounters? Rocky? Last Tango in Paris? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The keyword that joins all of these films is “risk”, and it pains me to say we may not see the likes of these again. And what’s been repeatedly pointed out as one of the scariest, most psychologically disturbing films of all-time (and, for me, its ranks #1) — Point #2 — is that The Exorcist director (William Friedkin) was not beyond shocking the crap out of all of us; rumor has it he utilized some truly unorthodox methods to get his actors in the right frame of mind as well (many of the expressions of fear were genuine). I would strongly argue, therefore, that unless you’re willing to make those kinds of sacrifices in creating yet another poorly-realized film about exorcism, give it up.

STEVE’S SIDENOTE: During our screening, I had more fun, quite honestly, listening to the two young ladies behind me talking to the screen — “Oh, Lord have mercy!”, “Oh, you are NOT goin’ back in that house!”, (and at the end) “You’re kidding me! Is that it???” (my sentiments exactly)




Review by Gary Murray

There is this new style of film making that was made popular by The Blair Witch Project. The style consists of making a film feel like a documentary, with bouncing camera work and no tripod to keep the acting fixed. It has been used in Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and to a lesser degree in Green Zone. I guess that the moving camera is to give the film an ‘in the moment’ beat. The latest to use the technique is the horror flick The Last Exorcism.

The film is the story of the Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). He is a former kid preacher from Southern Louisiana who has been passing down the world of God to congregations for a number of years. As he explains what he does, one gets the feeling that he is a man who has lost the faith, spewing words that he himself does not believe, more an entertainer than a man of God.

His father is also a pastor and the elder man has focused his work with exorcism, removing demons from the bodies of victims. Dad has a very old tome that tells the identity all the cast out demons and how to defeat them. Cotton believes that there are no demons and that the entire exercise known as the rite of exorcism is much more curing a mental disorder than casting out demons from the unwilling. Cotton has decided to hang up the racket of exorcism but wants the film crew to document the last one, just to show how it is done.

Cotton decides to answer the letter of Lewis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), a widowed father who suspects his youngest child Nell (Ashley Bell) has been taken over by an evil spirit. As Cotton and the crew make their way to the farm, they come across Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones), a kid with a chip on his shoulder who warns the Reverend to stay away. We soon discover that Caleb is Nell’s brother. Cotton meets with the family and senses that something is amiss with the young girl. He performs the exorcism, using a prop cross and various little stage tricks. Caleb, in an aside, busts Cotton letting the Reverend know what a fraud the man is.

That night, Nell shows up at Cotton’s hotel room, wild and screaming. Cotton has no idea how she knew where he was staying. This little discrepancy leads Cotton and the crew back to the Sweetzer farm and to a conclusion that Cotton doesn’t expect.

I hate this style of filmmaking because it makes me nauseous. I’ve watched documentaries for years and they never have this style of amateurism. The bouncing camera doesn’t make the film feel frightening, just irritating. Maybe I’m getting to old to enjoy this style but all I get is motion sickness from a film like The Last Exorcism never actual frights. Director Daniel Stamm would have made a more effective film if he just would have let the camera sit still on a solid surface.

As much as I hated the production of the film, I loved some of the performances. Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer is a perfect mix of innocence and ostracism needed for the role. She changes every aspect of her physicality on a dime, giving a performance that is both chilling and honest. Patrick Fabian does a fine job as Cotton Marcus, the lost soul who never realizes that he is lost until it is too late. He gives a realistic reading to his minister, a logical person thrown into an illogical situation.

The rest of the Sweetzer clan comes from central casting Hell. We’ve seen these characters in about a billion movies. They bring nothing new to the show, no break-through characterization. Iris Reisen has a very underwritten role as our filmmaker. She just reacts to each scene, never giving a solid acting job with the material.

If you have seen Rosemary’s Baby, you’ve seen The Last Exorcism, following the latter almost beat for beat. Blend that little 1970’s gem with the other 1970’s scare fest The Exorcist and you have this film. I would say to wait and see the film on television rather than at a theater, the smaller screen and the ability to pause can save more than a few lunches that The Last Exorcism will bring-up. If you go to the theater to see this just don’t forget the Dramamine.

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About the Author

From early childhood, Steve has been a fan of films. He decorated his room with homemade movie posters (which ultimately evolved into another hobby... movie-poster collecting), ticket stubs, and other cinema paraphernalia. His goal was always "Opening Day / Front of the Line!" And if the film was good, there was no limit to the number of repeat viewings, committing much of the dialogue to memory in the process. Always up for a good action or sci-fi flick, Steve is just as "at home" with a solid romance, comedy, documentary, or indie. It seemed only natural that he became a critic, having written reviews for his company, Ericsson, since 1998. Steve resides in the Dallas area and is proud to be a native Texan.