The Last Exorcism (2010)

Documentary film maker Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) has been invited by charismatic pastor Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) to expose exorcism for the fraud it is. Marcus has been performing exorcisms for most of his adult life, knowingly faking the events but writing it off as giving families some peace. His attitude has recently changed after reading about deaths that have occurred due to other people attempting the same thing.

In order to show the tricks of his trade he chooses a letter at random so he can do one last exorcism. This letter turns out to be a plea for help from farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), who is losing livestock and believes his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) may be possessed by a demon. Her brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) is dead set against it, but quickly figures out Marcus is a fraud and not much harm can come of it.

After performing the rites and collecting his fee, Marcus and the film crew retire to a hotel in town for the night. However, they are awakened when Nell shows up in a catatonic state. They take her to the hospital and try to convince her father to seek psychological help for her, but he refuses. Things further escalate as they are called back after she savagely attacks her brother. While Louis takes Caleb to the hospital, Cotton looks after the girl and starts noticing strange things happening, including collages showing Cotton, Iris and the cameraman all dying violent deaths.

It also turns out she is pregnant, which Iris and Cotton originally think might have been the doing of her father, but on his return he insists she is a virgin and is carrying the spawn of a demon. He begs Cotton to perform the rites again. While the pastor initially refuses, additional events lead him to agree. While still unsure, signs point to the fact that he may have encountered his first true instance of demonic possession - or some deeper psychological problems may be the source. Of course, there may even be a third answer.

Although this is filmed in the found-footage style that is quite popular these days, there is really no pretense in trying to sell this as true events. The documentary is kind of a movie within a movie. It's the style that the director chose, and that's it. That in itself is rather refreshing.

Also, much like Trollhunter, the fact that the documentarians are semi-professional dispatches with the need for a lot of shaky camera work. There is some, but the important parts are filmed like a professional documentary crew would, rather than someone making a home movie. This frees the characters in the movie to act and be characters, and Cotton Marcus is rather compelling. Our first look at Nell also establishes so much about her in one shot. I don't know if those strange, dark eyes were contacts or not, but that stare was scarier than most things you see on film these days.

I also liked the fact that much was still left to the imagination. Ashley Bell does some great contortions during the possession scenes rather than shoehorning in CGI, and ultimately the demon itself is not shown - one of the big flaws of the Paranormal Activity movies, which would have benefited from leaving more to the viewer's imagination.

This was a surprising little film with great performances and a strange, out-of-nowhere ending. If you are getting tired of seeing films done in this manner, I can fully understand, but at least give this a chance before putting them aside completely.

The Last Exorcism (2010)
Duration: 87 minutes
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr
Director: Daniel Stamm

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