Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Last Exorcism (2010)

A film crew, a Reverend and a troubled girl

"The Blair Witch Project" wasn't the first of its kind, but it did spawn a share of pseudo documentary films in the last decade. More recently "Diary of the Dead," "Quarantine" and "District 9" have embraced the style to give a level of in-the-now reporting, as well as to show how modern times have evolved with our obsession with recording anything and everything. "The Last Exorcism" has significance for the events that unfold with a special case that takes a different spin on the possession genre. It uses the format to put the audience in the moment by moment with some poetic license to make it less stiff and more entertaining than the usual documentary feature.

A Reverend named Cotton Marcus in Louisiana serves up his stimulating gospels at a small town church. Instead of getting his audience to pay attention with studious words and fine lessons, he's more gifted with a knack for enthusiasm and energy. He's a showman who loves attention and does everything from novelty magician's tricks to yelling and rapidly moving about to achieve that. He's full of tricks up his sleeves and isn't shy about that fact on camera. His honesty leads to coming right out by stating that he doesn't actually believe in demons--or possibly God--but provides a service to people to heal their mind regardless. He's still a people person despite what looks to be manipulation. Besides being good at it, one of the other justifications is money to provide for his family and to maintain the establishment of the church. Not only have preachers been in his family for generations but exorcists as well. The goal for doing the documentary is to expose exorcisms for what they really are from a little boy who suffocated in a past case from another practitioner who took things too seriously. There's a sort of self-made philosophy to his lifestyle but at times he still comes off like a too-smart-for-his-own good joker that mocks what he does.

Until he meets his match...

He goes out on a job with the usual antics and spiffy attire. On a small farm, he encounters the belligerent and unpredictable brother, Caleb, then a nice and somewhat naive teenage girl named Nell in question, and also their straight-shooting, meat-and-potatoes father. Their livestock is being indiscriminately killed in unusual ways and despite the girl's bloody clothing, they can't say for sure if it's her or not. Caleb is pushing away from a strong Christian upbringing from a previous family death, even though the rest are trying to keep their spiritual ties strong. Rev. Marcus plays right into the hands of what they want to believe anyway and declares that an exorcism is the only answer at this point to save the girl's life. Even after using his well-timed tricks, more truths come out after all the slick, prearranged smoke and mirrors clear about what's going on under the surface. Some of the characters are more dangerous than they originally let on and the film crew sticks around despite the new challenges ahead of the severely dysfunctional family.

For a story with interesting drama and charismatic characters, this movie definitely nails it to entice a viewer to want to see the rest of the story unfold. Patrick Fabian puts on an engaging performance as the Reverend and makes you believe he actually could be this guy due to there being a number of layers to his background story. Ashley Bell does both the nice and tormented transitions by being believably friendly or expressing hostility. For scares and atmosphere, this is the portion that has areas of feeling more scripted since it's more chaotic than the moderate pacing beforehand and you can notice some of the transitions don't always feel lined up as convincingly. For the latter portion this plays on a panicky cam that's usually accompanied by nails-against-the-chalkboard music to carry the state of confusion further. It's a transitional storyline that evolves at the same time as it escalates with more and more to show and tell.

Since this goes from a documentary/drama storyline to a horror, the fear portion behind "The Last Exorcism" was to catch the skeptics off guard rather than starting out by stating its intentions. Yet at times it went over its mark to not make a defensive viewer completely uncross their arms. Its beginning was often gradual and controlled but still intriguing, and then its conclusion was explosive, making it feel like it came out of no where and less grounded than it intended. The idea in itself is shocking, but where it came from or how it came to be was skipped over and it made this feel more fictional rather than going with the realistic perspective it wanted to originally achieve. It made the faux-documentary style feel a gimmick when it carried the same amount of suspension of disbelief as a conventional film. The ending tries to simultaneously wrap up the biggest questions it posed beforehand, show where the documentary takes the Reverend--since he's kind of riding between places--and then it attempts to make the experience shocking by being abrupt all at the same time. It does the last two somewhat effectively, if riding a little too much on its punchline, but it makes the first come with more riddling questions than when it began. I can imagine some might like that direct approach, as it gives the opportunity to get in and out and move onto the next film without lingering about, though it made the picture more distant to others that get a little more latched onto a concept.

The limitations of the documentary style come out after it's able to unfold the background of the characters with one on one interviews, but it doesn't always get a chance to evolve the inner workings of the background of the town's people or even the surroundings, which at first makes it seem like some random area, instead of something tainted or unique, until it's too late to get under your skin. They mention it in passing, but that's as far as that goes. I can't say it was a total cop out because it uses the same ingredients as some other horror features, just the timing and amount of foreshadowing beforehand is what makes that kind of picture truly come together and feel like one solid, culminating piece. It's like a magician who performs his magic act by setting the stage, gaining your attention and then wowing its audience with the final slight of hand trick. The timing has to be precise as it's a culmination of everything before it to a single, highly devised revelation of its total parts. This was a little more elusive about its actions and didn't give its audience enough time to truly take it in. It can catch people off guard but I can't say it sustains that effect for very long. This is definitely worth the rental but not necessarily the purchase price for that reason.

It looks that "The Last Exorcism 2" is announced for 2012 and might clear up some answers.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death)
Stars: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones
Link: IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment