Review: The Last Exorcism

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The Pitch: The Exorcist Witch Project.

The Review: Horror is a predominant genre of cinema, thanks to classic horror movies such as The Exorcist. There have also been a number of sub-genres of horror over the years, and probably the most prevalent of the last decade is the “found footage” genre, where either a documentary or home video feel is applied to footage, such as The Blair Witch Project and [REC]. So it was surely only a matter of time before someone decided to splice the two together. Taking a break from another sub-genre, torture porn stalwart Eli Roth takes a producer credit on this “documentary” of the less than reverend Cotton Marcus and his faking of an exorcism to expose the issues with the wider trade.

The first act of the movie is set-up for the later events, and consequently is more focused on the religious aspects, reflecting on Cotton’s increasing lack of faith, but the journey that’s actually taken him on and how he’s arrived at this point. His cynicism and brashness is only vaguely challenged as he heads out to the home of Nell, where he’s chosen at random to conduct his last exorcism. Through this section of the movie, there’s plenty to reflect on, especially around the nature of faith and aspects of belief.

Then the second act shows Nell start to show the effects that have led her father to call on Cotton’s services in the first place. By setting up the fact that the demon only presents itself at night, there’s an underlying tension built in as we approach darkness each time over the course of the next few days. There’s a couple of very effective shots using the camera to grisly or suspenseful ends, and as we’re led to question characters’ motives and back stories the tension starts to come from without as well as within, and in general the middle stretch is by far the most compelling section.

In the final stretch, there’s a deliberate set-up for what is to come, and expectations are set, only for those expectations to be subverted a couple of times. Unfortunately, this is where The Last Exorcism starts to lose points; the first of those subversions culminates in a decision taken by characters who’ve obviously never watched Scream or any other self-mocking horror (don’t do that – no sensible person would do what you lot are doing!), which leads them to the final twist, and a riff on another very famous Sixties horror, which while making sense of all the characters’ arcs denies us the gory catharsis promised by that earlier set-up, and feels horribly anti-climactic. If you like a more tense and cerebral horror, then this could be for you, but it may be best to leave just before the end, and see if you can come up with a better ending than the moviemakers.

Why see it at the cinema: Some early and mid-movie creepiness always works well in a large, darkened cinema. You can also get to enjoy the tutting and disbelief of your fellow moviegoers on your way out.

The Score: 6/10

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