Director: Daniel Stamm
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Last Exorcism arrives looking very much like the first horror to try to cash in on the success of last year’s Paranormal Activity, by aping its faux documentary style to present its dramatised events as real.
The subject of the documentary is Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a Louisiana preacher who comes from a long line of exorcists. But following a crisis of faith, Marcus gives up performing them and instead sets out to expose charlatans by supposedly filming this documentary of him performing fake exorcisms.
This takes him to a remote rural community where a widowed farmer believes his 16 year old daughter Nell is possessed by a demon. Marcus and a film crew go to their home where he performs his “exorcism” by setting up speakers emitting demonic noises and strings to shake the bed.
But when the girl shows up at their hotel seemingly still possessed, and with the father ready to kill her to save her soul, what’s really behind these unexplained events?
A lot of skill is required to deliver performances that look as though they're real, and the doc style is highly convincing in the early stages. A bold, deliberately paced setup is also reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, but where that was full of suggestion, this is quicker to show its horrors, mainly involving Nell contorting her body in grotesque ways.
There’s some interesting ground being covered in its focus on debunking and scepticism and preying on the vulnerable, while also harkening after Rosemary’s Baby, REC and The Blair Witch Project.
But after a promising start, The Last Exorcism falls apart in spectacular style. A large part of the problem lies with it trying to have its cake and eat it in the way it tells the story. The fact that it’s clearly a dramatised movie is betrayed by the ominous score that flares up whenever something unsettling is supposed to be happening.
Worse than that though is the way it portrays events with a shaky handheld camera when it suits, but at other times the lens is all-seeing, leading to camera movements and edits that simply wouldn’t be possible if this were really a documentary. It’s a sloppy way to let something promising slide into incompetence.
Then there’s the fact that the slow build ultimately leads nowhere except a ridiculous climax. The first recourse in most films such as this is to loud noises and moving furniture but a novel approach is taken here in that it never really kicks off at all, meaning it’s dull when it’s not being farcical, and apart from a couple of jump scares, never remotely scary.