Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Rambling Than Review: The Last Exorcism

As a kid, I got carsick a lot. Even as an adult I have been known to all but yack up my blueberry waffles if you take me on a winding back road and force me to sit in the back seat. Even today, if conditions are just right (bad driver, back seat, too many french fries, etc.) I can get such a feeling in my gut then I am done - for hours. I don't call it a weak stomach, as I live for Cajun seasonings and wicked hot peppers. I call it motion sickness.
Why do I mention this?
Because I got a severe case of it while watching The Last Exorcism.

I've read a lot of reviews of this film already, and while I hate to rehash what has already been said, I wanted to convey a few thoughts.

First off, they attached Eli Roth's name to it so those in love with the dude would rush out and see it. I don't know that that approach worked, but the weekend box office numbers seem to indicate that either it did, or people just love a good exorcism.

In my opinion, there has not been a really decent movie about exorcisms since indeed, The Exorcist in 1973. That's a damn long time ago, and while I will give a pass to The Exorcism of Emily Rose simply because it is more of a courtroom drama with top caliber stars than a gritty horror movie, I simply cannot say that I have been interested, intrigued, frightened or even remotely on edge by anything else claiming to be such.

All that aside, I did actually enjoy The Last Exorcism.

The concept of the movie is a simple one. Cotton Marcus is an evangelical minister who has grown up following in his daddy's footsteps -preaching the good word of our lord Jesus Christ. Yeah, whatever. His claim to fame (as well as dear old dad's) is that he can cast out the devil in a three step process. Okay, maybe not three steps, but it's a family business that has done them well over the years.

However, Cotton becomes disenchanted with the fraud of exorcism because he has recently read a story of a boy who was killed during such a "procedure". Since he has a child of his own near the same age, he decided this whole faux ministry thing should be revealed as the bunch of ridiculous hooey it is.

He decides to drag a camera crew around with him as he performs the titular act - the last exorcism - in which he will expose the rites as the deceptive trickery it actually is. Opening one of his many random letters in which someone pleads to him to come and exorcise the demon in whichever family member it may be, off he goes to backwoods Louisiana. Stopping midway there to change out of his every-guy t-shirt and into a crisp linen suit - much more appropriate for casting out demons, apparently - they traverse down a dirt cowpath to the farm of one Louis Sweetzer.

Louis's seventeen year old daughter Nell, besides being home-schooled and kept from regular contact with kids her age, is plagued with what he believes to be the devil himself. (Now why Lucifer would have any interest in a redneck farm girl such as Nell is beyond me, when he could possess such other worthy candidates, but anyway...)
Nell has been doing some pretty crazy shit as of late, the worst of which is gutting the family livestock. She has no recollection of these acts, and states she just wakes up and it's already been done.

Meanwhile, we get to see all the tricks of Cotton's trade, most impressive is a crucifix that has a special button to mist out some demonic smoke when pushed.
He then sets up Nell's room, has her get comfortable, and instructs the family to stand by and 'send her all your love and prayers' as he proceeds to knock that demon right out of her.

The crew leave the house, all the while waving goodbye to the Sweetzer family and congratulating themselves on a job well done. They've pulled the wool over the family's eyes and in the process got their footage to prove demon possession is all in the minds of the "afflicted" and they just need a good stint in a mental ward to mend their souls.
Things are not, however, as clear-cut as they seem.

Cut to our exorcism team of three relaxing at their hotel room a few miles from the Sweetzer farm. When Cotton walks back into his bedroom he is surprised to see Nell sitting on his bed. She appears in some kind of trance and doesn't respond to them when they talk to her. There is no reasonable explanation as to how she got there. They end up taking her to the hospital and try to get her seen by a shrink because they truly believe she has a psychiatric problem. Unable to prove that point after a clean bill of health, they are forced to allow her father to take her home the next morning. Soon after, when Cotton & crew go back to the farm they see Nell's brother Caleb with a nasty gash across his face. They find out Nell slashed Caleb but has no recollection of doing so. The group stays with Nell while Louis drives Caleb to the hospital.
Investigating, Cotton finds Nell chained to her bed, her father apparently convinced the devil isn't quite finished.

After a relatively slow start, things do begin to amp up a bit at this point. After releasing her from the chains, the crew calm Nell down and allow her to rest while they do the same downstairs. Without warning, Cotton awakes when he hears a baby crying upstairs. All three of them rush up to find Nell standing in the hallway in the shadows. It's a very creepy moment, probably the eeriest one in the entire film, and when Cotton tries to approach her she runs from them, only to be found "drowning" a baby doll underwater in the tub. After several moments, Nell regains consciousness and the crew finds a disturbing picture that she has drawn of a bloodied cat. There then proceeds to be a very alarming few moments in the family barn, of which I am still recovering from.

I hate to go on much more than this, as giving away much more would quite possibly spoil the film for those with the intention of seeing it. I will say that the last half hour is the best - and the worst - part. When Cotton realizes that something else may be going on besides just a young girl having a mental break of some kind, it makes him extremely uneasy. Turns out he might have to seriously perform that exorcism after all.

The acting in the film is first-rate, in particular Patrick Fabian as Cotton Marcus and Ashley Bell as Nell Sweetzer. I was so stirred by Bell's "possessed" personality - it really was impressive as hell. Going from clueless, fundamental daddy's girl to a nasty "Say my name!"-kind of demon in two clicks was some fine acting. What's crazy is that I've never heard of this girl before. And Fabian really takes his performance as a disillusioned minister to the next level. You really want to hate all his hokey religious bullshit, but you just can't take your eyes off of him. Powerful stuff..

Something that did disappoint me was the fact that in the previews and on quite a few film posters we see Nell climbing the walls of her bedroom. This was utter crap, as we never once see Nell hanging off the ceiling a 'la Tina in A Nightmare on Elm Street. We see her crouched on top of a huge armoire, which does raise the question of just how she got up there... but not once (unless I was closing my eyes to avoid barfing) did I see her crawling the walls. Did I miss something?
The crazy back bend that is all over movie posters though? Yep, that happened.

Truthfully, I was not scared once during this movie. Perhaps it is the PG-13 rating that had me backed into a corner of disbelief, thinking that nothing less than an R rating could make me jump out of my skin... Nope, it just wasn't scary. A few things bugged the hell out of me, and both of those things involved animals in less than stellar condition. But man, when I saw The Exorcist for the first time (and the second, and the ninety-eighth) I was downright rattled. Scared out of my skin. There is truly no comparison.

And I have to say, the ending just went out into left field, if I'm being honest. It morphed into a completely different movie in the last ten minutes or so. I'm really at a loss as to explain it, other than it's possible that producers or other powers that be didn't think the film's ending was...exciting enough? To me, it feels like the film lost its way in the final act.

But that's not to say that I didn't like it. Despite feeling like I'd been on a Tilt-a-Whirl for eighty minutes or so, and feeling like the ending was a different movie altogether, I thought it was a worthwhile venture into the land of 'found-footage' films.

But after my Dramamine-infused viewing of Paranormal Activity last year, my I'malittlebitnauseous trip to Piranha 3D, my ThankgoodnessIwatcheditonDVDathome experience with the awesome Lake Mungo, and my HolycrapIhavetorestatBordersforanhour! The Last Exorcism event this weekend, I need to rest my weary stomach of these types of films. Can I just have a movie that allows me to sit still and not contemplate running out of the theater, please? Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Really? This film didn't scare you at all? I've read many a review and my head is still scratching as to why people don't like the ending. Perhaps to discuss it here would give it away but for me, I saw it as a completely logical ending. It didn't devolve into that 'other' demonic possession movie and thankfully so.

Man I want to discuss this film so much more but don't want to spoil it for your readers :)

Pax Romano said...

Great review, Chris.

I loved this film, even the ending - yes it was goofy, but for whatever reason, it worked for me.

And where has Patrick Fabian been all my life?

Christine Hadden said...

Cortez: Well, I didn't hate the ending, but I did think it just seemed so different than the rest of the film. We went along the whole time, relatively quiet and intense, and then all the sudden wham! Here's what was really up with the whole thing. Just weird.

And as far as being scared, I think others will be frightened at some point, I really do. I think I'm maybe just becoming too desensitized. I'm waiting for something to come along that really really shocks and disturbs me I guess. But the fact that it didn't scare me didn't mean I didn't enjoy just didn't rattle me like I wanted it to :o)

Pax: I think I would have loved it a whole lot more if I hadn't felt like a milkshake the whole time. My nerve endings in my gut were fried, lol.
And yes, where has this Fabian dude been hiding?

Heather Santrous said...

I didn't think the camera movement was all that bad this time around. It was starting to towards the end of the movie, but there have been a lot worse out there.

I am like you with the ending. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. It was different and I have to give it some points for that at least.

MissSardonicus said...

I'm still undecided in regards to the ending, but I totally agree with you that the last ten minutes feel like a totally different film.

It didn't scare me either, although there were definitely some unsettling moments.

I wish I could talk more about the ending without bringing up spoilers!

I will say that I thought the acting was really solid across the board.

Christine Hadden said...

Heather: Well, it wasn't as bad as Paranormal Activity, that's for sure. But I've nonetheless decided to wait for DVD for any more of these 'found footage' films.

Miss Sardonicus: I know, I wish I could ramble on about the ending too, just to see what everyone thinks...but I'll wait till more people have seen it. It certainly morphed into a different film there at the end though.

Anonymous said...

I REALLY don't think I'm going to enjoy this film. That's why I'm avoiding it.
But your synopsis was down right poetic! I wasn't aware of the plot until now. It's filled with so much potential! I'm pretty sure this post is more satisfying than the actual film would be for me.

Sam Charles Norton said...

Came out of the cinema hating the ending (thought the rest of the film was brilliant) but then wondered: were the 'others' just doing for their side what Cotton Marcus was doing for his side?