Theatrical Review: THE LAST EXORCISM
Writers: Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Director: Daniel Stamm
Cast: Patrick Fabrian, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones
“Are you a faithless preacher or a mean, motherfucking servant of God?”
The above remark belongs to FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but it fittingly describes the character at the center of THE LAST EXORCISM, Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). The believable and relatable enigma of Rev. Marcus anchors THE LAST EXORCISM; he's a complex figure that might be a flawed (but good) soul, or maybe just a man of bullshit that lies to himself as well as others. You’re not quite sure to how to feel towards Marcus, but it is interesting to try and figure out the real reverend as he encounters what could be a demon.
The construction of Marcus and his journey makes THE LAST EXORCISM a thoughtful and emotionally involving film about a lost man hopefully finding his way. The film is also highly creepy and knows how and when to shock the audience.
THE LAST EXORCISM is a fake documentary, but the script offers a clever reason for the documentary window dressing of this fictional film, which also offers depth to Cotton Marcus early in the film. Marcus had been trained by his father since elementary school to serve the lord, and has performed many exorcisms, but he no longer believes they help their subject. After hearing about a child dying during an exorcism gone wrong and the pope’s decision to open an exorcism training academy, Marcus is worried that only more deaths will come and believes he needs to reveal exorcisms to be a hoax. This is why he has a documentary crew for his “last exorcism," so he can capture the fraud on tape.
Marcus doesn’t only lack faith in regards to exorcisms, but his faith in God overall is shaken and uncertain. The film efficiently sets up the picture of a man who is not sure what he believes; he’s a supposed “servant of God” in the middle of a crisis of faith. That’s a heavy subject, and admirably it is presented bluntly and without a heavy hand from the screenwriters or director. Marcus didn’t choose his profession, but was appointed it from his father. He never got a chance to discover if this was his calling and now he has a wife and special needs child that rely on him for financial support. You wonder like Marcus does, if he still does believe, or if he ever really did. The complexity of Marcus grows later, as it’s revealed the reverend is having financial problems and is getting a large amount of money to perform the exorcism, making you question Marcus’ main reason for performing the deed. Is it the desire to save people from the dangers of exorcism just a bit by Marcus and is it really about the money? Who knows, maybe not since he brought along the camera crew, but maybe he just did that to convince himself it’s not about the money. It’s hard to figure out Marcus - THE LAST EXORCISM muddies up the true image of him, making one struggle to see the real man but curious to find the truth of his soul.
The subject chosen for Marcus’ documentary is selected randomly from letters sent to him, and it ends up being Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell); a sweet, teenage Louisiana farm girl who has been waking up with bloody dresses and no idea where the blood came from, but the fact that farm animals are always discovered butchered after she bloodies her dress suggests what happened. Nell lives with her slightly older brother, Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) and her father, Louis (Louis Herthum). All actors playing the Sweetzer family look like locals plucked off a farm. Louis’ face resembles red leather, as if his skin has been frying in the sun for a lifetime, Caleb is lanky and definitely looks more farm boy than young actor, and Ashley Bell has the plain but pleasant features that fit a soft-spoken girl country girl and exudes innocence and sweetness - except when the the evil comes to her. The film’s casting is a huge benefit, including the Sweetzers and everyone else, even in the small roles; the actors look their parts perfectly and even better, are spot on with their performances. The casting helps make THE LAST EXORCISM feel authentic, a big key with horror faux-documentaries.
To go along with the great casting, the man behind the camera usually does a fine job of never outing this faux-documentary movie as a movie - keeping the style raw and effective. The natural style of the film is over-stepped briefly during one of Nell’s possessions when the music notes become a little too apparent, taking one a bit out of the moment. However, other than that small misstep, the right moves are almost always made in order to make the film feel real, like a true documentary, which heightens its disturbing turns and acts.
Nell’s possession by a demon appears certain, except to Marcus (the trailers and posters imply that so I don’t think that is a spoiler) and film makes you wonder if, and hope that, this “faithless preacher” can become a “mean motherfucking servant of God," for himself and sweet Nell. THE LAST EXORCISM has a compelling main character, along with a twisted story that is pulled off with great effect.
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