Play Ball! : The Last Exorcism

banana bread and jesus!
Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism might be one of those films that people pick sides over.  Some will proclaim it phenomenal, other will decry it a major letdown.   I am going to stand somewhere left of center and say, I really enjoyed it, warts and all.

Once again we are subjected to another pseudo - documentary.  Like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and The Last Broadcast, The Last Exorcism is presented as documentary film about a preacher who has recently admitted his holy rolling ways are nothing more than show biz antics - he hires a small film crew to follow him about to show just how much of a fake he really is.  Surprisingly, the first forty five minutes of this film put me in mind of an actual documentary from the early 70's called Marjoe (a film about a fire and brimstone preacher who decided to come clean about the way that old time religion is nothing more than a money making ploy and one that preys on the simple minded or uneducated).

Cotton Marcus (played with charismatic flair by Patrick Fabian) may be a huckster, but deep down, he seems like a decent fellow (even as he points out that once he starts preaching, he could give people the recipe for banana bread and they would not even notice). He has a loving wife and a son with a hearing problems and a speech impediment (interestingly, his wife and son seem to be in on the whole scam as well). For the purpose of the documentary, he decides to take on the case of a young woman whose father claims that she is possessed by a demon.

Soon Marcus and company are on their way to a backwater in rural Louisiana ...now, pay attention during this part of the film; a couple of hints as to what is really happening are given during the interviews with some of the locals.
the power of cash compels me!
Once reverend Marcus meets the Sweetzer clan, it seems clear that any of the daughter's odd behaviors can probably be attributed to a few dozen non-mystical factors. Ashely Bell is a revelation as the possibly possessed, Nell, she plays her part as a naive victim of circumstance (as well as possibly a dark family secret) with such finesse that frankly, it's sort of heartbreaking watching her character suffer.  Is she ill?  Has she been sexually assaulted?  Is she the victim of some sort of hysteria or depression?

Reverend Marcus holds an exorcism that he has rigged with all kinds of cheap special effects, and then proclaims Nell cured of her affliction...soon he packs his loaded crucifix away along with the cash he has was payed and is on his way...and that's when things start getting interesting.

After a somnambulistic  Nell shows up at the Reverend's motel, he realizes that he might be in over his head - furthermore, he and one of the film crew, are starting to deduce that something might be wrong with Nell's father as well.  One of the things I really appreciated was that no matter what kind of creepy things occurred to, or around, Nell, most of them could be explained away.  She never levitates, nor does she climb the walls (no matter what certain movie posters may infer)...that said, it's hard to watch her bending over backwards and speaking in a mature woman's voice and think that something wicked this way had not come.
i'm a little tea pot
As the film progresses, one may be hard pressed to believe that Nell is the victim of nothing more than a bunch of crazy adults and their beliefs.  Even Marcus tries to convince her father that she needs psychiatric help. Nonetheless this is a horror film, so that's the route we take.

Now about that ending.  Nope, I am not going to give it away - but I know a lot of people hated it.  Frankly, as hokey as it seemed, I sort of enjoyed it.  To me it was a terrifically tacky curve ball thrown at the viewer, and you could either choose to catch that ball and run with it, or toss it back and stomp your feet and go home.  I say, Play Ball!


The Mike said...

Good write up. I'm definitely in the camp of folks who completely bought into this movie, and am glad you mention the clues early on, which brought about revelations (not the book) in my head after the film ended.

iasa said...

I've not heard of this film before, but it looks like it's going on 'the to be seen' list.

The Man-Cave said...

Very nice review, Pax! I loved the whole "ballgame" so much that I ignored the minor flaws. And I side with (what seems to be) the minority who embraced the ending. It was unexpected yet it fit perfectly into this film given the steps taken to get there. I feel like I'm talking "code" to not spoil anything. So it is nice to read another positive review that appreciated the ending.

Christine Hadden said...

Okay, so I'm not alone. She did NOT climb the walls. Wouldn't it have been cool if she had, though?

Great review. Seems everyone is in agreement 'round the community...

MissSardonicus said...

Great review. I too enjoyed the fact that she didn't climb the walls or spin her head completely around or vomit pea soup. Word on the street (street=horror blogs) is that no special effects were used for any of her possessed behavior. Ashley Bell must do a lot of yoga!

I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. I didn't HATE it, but- I don't know, it seemed like a pretty big departure in tone from the rest of the film. I think I need to see it again.

You've really piqued my curiousity as far as "Marjoe" goes. That's going to the top of my must-see list!

Anonymous said...

Great review Pax. I thought the way the film ended made the most sense and it was headed in that direction. The shocking thing for me was the people actually behind it, perpetrating everything.

Pax Romano said...

POT, that's it! The fact that some of these sweet, kind folks are actually now what they seem!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Ive been torn on whether or not I am going to see this one in theaters, this is honestly the first review I have even seen up for the film. Being the huge Emily Rose fan that I am, I don't think I can afford not to Pax!