Spoilers follow ...
- The Last Exorcism review by NP
Evangelical reverend and showman Cotton Marcus has a plan to expose the concept of ‘exorcism’ as the farce he believes it to be. This, as you might imagine, is asking for trouble. He reveals to camera his ‘box of tricks’ (steaming crucifixes, sound effects etc) that will prove how gullible people are. Patrick Fabian is excellent as the fast-talking Cotton. The reverend is initially arrogant, cocooned in the high-energy joy he brings to his congregation despite not entirely believing his own words, but gradually becomes aware that events are bigger than he can possibly handle.
In ‘Blair Witch’ fashion, we are treated to interviews from the locals conducted by Cotton as he makes his way to where the exorcism is due to take place. Not all of them are friendly. One of the least amenable happens to be the son of the family for whom the exorcism is to be carried out. Indeed, one local’s proclamation that the house in question contains ‘the gates of hell’ is alarmingly prosaic.
When we meet the victim, Nell, allegedly under a demon’s possession, she is virginal and shy. Actress Ashley Bell overplays Nell’s wide-eyed innocence and wholesome smile … but then, we are meant to find her unnaturally good, in comparison to what comes later.
I enjoy horror films, but I only find a handful of them truly frightening. One is ‘The Exorcist’ which, as you may imagine, this shares similarities with – and this is another. Familiarity does not make the images of a young girl getting progressively more violent, unearthly and demonic any easier to watch. The look of horror on the face of her father, her (also very unnerving) brother (a brilliant performance from Caleb Landry-Jones) and Cotton himself is communicated very well to the audience.
Rather desperately, Cotton clings to the notion that – even despite bone crunching distortions (all performed without a stunt double) – the girl is not possessed by a demon but by shame. She is pregnant, and is terrified to reveal this to her God-fearing father.
It is ultimately revealed (and this is a SPOILER) that not only is Nell actually possessed (by a demon called Abalam), but (in true Wicker Man style) the entire neighbourhood is in on it also. When her new-born baby is thrown upon an open fire which apparently gives true life to Abalam, as a viewer, I am actually relieved – because up until that point, ‘The Last Exorcism’ had me just where it wanted me, figuratively watching behind my fingers, such was the power of performance and production. But the ending entered into a world of the fantastic, a revelation too far, that ripped the carefully built-up realism from the piece. Not that the climax isn’t effective – it’s just unnecessary when it serves to break the spell of what we had seen up till that point. The glimpse of an entity in the burgeoning flames is the only example of CGI in the film.
That bastion of decency, the UK Censor – who even since the 1930’s, has been a thorn in the side of horror pictures – banned the promotional poster because of its ‘offensive’ imagery. As is often the case, such reassuring suppression only helped fuel its success enough for a sequel, also starring Ashley Bell, in 2013.
0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.