‘The Last Exorcism’ – An Intelligent Found Footage Possession Film
The Reverend Cotton Marcus, son of the Reverend John Marcus, has been preaching the Word of God from the time he was ten years old. Like his father before him, he is anointed by the Holy Spirit of God to perform exorcisms. He has cast out demons and he has preached the Word of God for as long as he can remember…and he does not believe one word of it. An exorcism to Cotton is the same thing as a psychiatric service performed to make the “possessed” person feel better about themselves. He is an actor, a magician and a charlatan. His sole purpose in performing exorcisms is to discredit the vocation in the first place. When the film crew asks his only child if his daddy believes in ghosts or demons, he raises his finger to his lips as if to say “Shh…this is our little secret.” Cotton wants better health care, not spiritual guidance from God. He thanks the doctors, not God, for his sons’ clean bill of health. So what happens when a man who has no faith in God is confronted with an issue that forces him to have that faith. That is what the gripping, smart and original horror thriller The Last Exorcism is about.
A film crew consisting of an interviewer/sound technician and a cameraman follow Cotton to the Sweetzer farm in Ivanwood, Louisiana to “perform” an exorcism on a 16-year-old girl named Nell (played superbly by Ashley Bell). Nell lives alone with her father Louis and her brother Caleb. Louis’ wife has passed away from cancer. Louis is a decent man who tries to raise his children right and keep them from evil influences. When Cotton first shows up at the farm he is met with hostility by Caleb, Louis’ son. Caleb is angry at God for taking his mother from him and is therefore angry with anyone coming to the farm with anything having to do with God.
Louis is convinced that Nell is possessed by a demon. Being a man of God, he has written the Reverend Marcus a letter begging him to come to Ivanwood and the Sweetzer farm to perform an exorcism on his daughter. Cotton first does a ‘test’ on Nell by having her put her bare feet into a bucket of plain tap water. While he leads the family in prayer he slips a chemical of some sort into the water to make it appear as if were boiling from the heat coming off of Nell’s body. Before the ritual of exorcism he sets the room up with demonic sounds and devices to make the bed and pictures on the wall appear to move on their own. Yes, the Reverend Cotton Marcus has all kinds of tricks of the trade, the only thing he doesn’t have is faith. Before the end of the film faith is something he will need by the bus load.
Blending documentary realism with supernatural horror, 2010’s ‘The Last Exorcism’ brings intelligence and ambiguity back to the possession genre. When a disillusioned evangelical minister allows a film crew to document his last routine exorcism, the case proves far more ominous than expected.
Patrick Fabian shines as Cotton Marcus, a fraudulent exorcist planning to expose his own tricks on camera. But when a troubled teenage farm girl named Nell (Ashley Bell) displays signs of genuine possession, Cotton’s faith and skepticism collide.
The found footage aesthetic creates an intimate docu-drama feel while the story subverts tropes. Nell’s behavior blurs the line between demonic influence and trauma-induced psychosis. Cotton initially approaches each “manifestation” with clinical logic.
Directed by Daniel Stamm, the Last Exorcism is an intelligently written and directed film and is one of the most original horror films to come along in years. The film uses a documentary approach in the same way that the Blair Witch Project did over ten years before. It follows along the same line as BWP and Paranormal Activity in proving that what you can’t see is far more frightening than what you can see. The film is not afraid to ask questions. Is Nell possessed by a demon or is it all in her mind? Is her father sexually abusing her and hiding behind his religion to cover it up? It is not until the shocking ending to the film that all these questions and more are finally answered.
The ending ventures into audacious territory, reinventing the exorcism formula with a shocking third act. ‘The Last Exorcism’ replaces shallow sensationalism with moral complexity.
Smart, restrained, and bolstered by outstanding acting, ‘The Last Exorcism’ proved psychological horror can be just as potent as shock spectacle. By getting inside characters’ heads, it gets under the audience’s skin. The main leads, Ashley Bell (Nell) and Patrick Fabian (Cotton Marcus) give believable and stunning performances. The director, Daniel Stamm, has a very bright future ahead of him. I for one cannot wait to see what he has for us all next. The Last Exorcism is a helluva thrill ride and well worth the ticket.