Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material, 87 minutes
Jumpy "The Last Exorcism" delivers a few chills
Admittedly, I was a little hesitant going to see "The Last Exorcism," but not necessarily due to the subject matter. On the plus side, one of the producers of the film is noted horror film director Eli Roth ("Hostel," "Cabin Fever"), but on the downside, it was PG-13 and shot in the jumpy faux documentary style of "The Blair Witch Project," or as I termed it, "The Blah Witch Project," since it was such a letdown in terms of genuine scares. In spite of a few eerie, tense moments, the uneven "The Last Exorcism" seems a tad watered down, trying too hard to make you believe it's true, when you know better.
"The Last Exorcism" concerns a charming but troubled Louisiana evangelical preacher named Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. He agrees to let a documentary crew follow him on his "last" exorcism to show what a fraud he and the whole exorcism thing really is. He goes across the state to perform his last exorcism on a young girl (Ashley Bell) who feels she is possessed by demons. However, Cotton soon realizes he is experiencing genuine possession and must genuine rely on his faith to get him through his biggest test yet.
Produced by Roth and helmed by German director Daniel Stamm, the tense "The Last Exorcism" provides a few good jumps and scares, though it's tame, restrained stuff compared to Roth's "Hostel" torture films. It's well-acted by Fabian and especially by newcomer Bell, who is literally stretched to the limits by the supposed demons (reportedly, there were no special effects in some Bell's amazing contortions) in what are the "The Last Exorcism's" highlights.
What's problematic with "The Last Exorcism" is the film's uneven narrative framework: the faux documentary style of "lost footage" ala "Blair Witch." That latter film popularized the supposed "true" nature of the documentary (don't worry, this story, like "Blair Witch," is pure fiction) and on that particular level, it doesn't work well, with annoying camera movements, lack of attention to detail and a story that takes too long to develop.
Once it gets there, there are a handful of eerie, intense moments and it is worthwhile to see a movie with this theme rely on lighting and body contortions rather than a load of gore and special effects, but the jumpy, baffling ending and the last 20 minutes don't seem to fit into the film well.
"The Last Exorcism" should be a modest hit based on the film's demons plotline alone, though some may be letdown at how restrained the film is in terms of pure horror. Sure, some of it's chilling, but producer Roth could probably make a far better R-Rated version of the film that would please even more fans. "The Last Exorcism" provides a few good PG-13 jumps but it could've been better.