Monday, January 17, 2011

The Exorcist meets The Blair Witch? Interesting...

During last week's assertion via blizzard that we are indeed in the winter months, I decided that it wasn't particularly in my best interests to trek across town to see the latest films in theaters recently (okay, I was also not a little lazy). So instead I decided to go the rental route and see what was available for viewing. With great delight (and nothing really available) I came home with 2010's The Last Exorcism for my entertainment, and watched it last night. Yes, on a day in which many watched the Pats get their heads handed to them by a team they decimated during the regular season and the somewhat unimportant Golden Globes were aired, I skipped them both to watch this mockumentary produced by Eli Roth telling the tale of a veteran Reverend's final exorcism before retirement.

Cue bed shaking, oh Lord!
The Last Exorcism takes place in Louisiana and stars Patrick Fabian as Reverend Cotton Marcus, a lifetime man of the cloth from Baton Rouge who has performed over forty exorcisms in his career. But after reading an article in which an autistic child was accidentally killed during such an exercise, and with a waning faith in God, Marcus decides to take a camera crew along with him on his last excursion, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the charade that is the exorcism practice and exposing it as charlatanism for the world to see. At least, that's the idea until they get to the home of Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) who believes his sixteen-year-old daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by the devil himself.

She'll swallow your soul for a nickel!
As mentioned before, the film a mockumentary, a film shot in documentary style to tell a fictional tale. There have been several mockumentary horror films, and the most notable - The Blair Witch Project - is the one whose success any filmmaker would envy. Of course, this means that the story process used in Blair Witch has been copied by a hundredfold movies, and The Last Exorcism is no different. Educated people go off into remote and uninviting places sure that they carry the truth with them, only to see and experience things completely contrary to their beliefs and make them reassess before a terrifying finale. Of course, this film has slightly more capital and more advanced technology behind it, and it shows especially in the picture quality which looks sharper while still looking like it was shot with a handheld camera. Another interesting aspect of the film is that most of the actors play characters sharing their real-life given names. I can only imagine this was to help acclimate local performers to limit the number of takes, and perhaps to give a ring of genuineness to the production.

And that's why you don't go sticking things like that in your mouth
The film also has great acting, and from the most unlikely of sources. Almost everyone in the cast have made their careers via television, with precious little film experience overall. Fabian is charming and humorous as Reverend Marcus, but also quite convincing when he's 'working' at exorcising demons. Fabian has to make a gradual transformation over the course of the film to accept the things he cannot explain, and does a great job pulling it off. Bell, who plays the possessed Nell, makes her feature film debut and shows us a performance rivaling that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Though at first she appears sweet and unassuming, we slowly learn more about her as the film continues and she does one of the best indie acting jobs I've seen in years. Herthum, who plays her father, has a legitimate grittiness to his presence that makes him a great foil to Marcus over the course of the film. Caleb Landry Jones does a good job as Nell's brother Caleb, though he's more notable for his upcoming role as Sean Cassidy in the upcoming X-Men: First Class. And comedian Iris Bahr does a serviceable job as a member of the film crew following Marcus. She acts unofficially as the voice of the audience, saying what we're all feeling about the current situation. Many of the minor performers are obviously locals and aren't as talented performers, but do good jobs regardless.

Okay, okay, they've canceled Dollhouse, calm down already!
The Last Exorcism does have one problem however. When you're filming a documentary-style film, you can't suddenly have jump cuts to another angle mid-scene. You have to act like there's only one camera and do things in one take, or at least patch it up enough so that it LOOKS like it's one take. This happens far too often over the course of the film and makes the experience fell less authentic than it otherwise would. It's a shame because when it's GOOD, as it often is, it's plagued by little things like this. If they couldn't successfully pull off the right technique, perhaps the documentary angle should have been dropped altogether. It certainly didn't make the film very unique and could have been handled much better than it was by novice director Daniel Stamm. In the end, it felt a bit too Blair Witch-y for my tastes, though the finale did succeed in making my heart race waiting to see what happened.

Okay, try not to think of the blood on your hands and breathe...
The great performances really make the film what it is, especially Fabian and Bell in the lead roles. While the film itself felt a bit repetitive and cliched, The Last Exorcism still managed to get the blood flowing and the tension rising throughout most of its run time. The documentary angle could have been scrapped - and the film would have been better for it - but I still thoroughly enjoyed watching it as a fun, pretty scary title that probably won't have any long-term legacy but manages the simple task of entertaining its audience.

1 comment:

brian said...

This movie is probably in my top ten of the year. I found Cotton Marcus to be such a fascinating character and the ending, while completely out of left field, made me smile. Not so much a horror movie as it is a character study, full of great performances.