The promotional posters for The Last Exorcism were pretty creepy – an Exorcist-esque girl bent over backwards, some dirt and blood… nothing we haven’t seen before but relatively cool looking. So when I bought a ticket I expected a stylish epilogue to The Exorcism of Emily Rose (in between being thankful that it was just in frikkin 2D) and wasn’t particularly excited.
The film begins by introducing the main character, a reverend who has grown up in the church and has been, some may say, abused and indoctrinated by his minister father who uses the child preacher as an attraction to bring more money to the church. As he has grown up, he has become more theatrical; a performer. He is a well known exorcist, and outlines the history of exorcisms practiced by the church. Everyone interviewed speaks with tongue in cheek, both about the existence of demons and the validity or fraudulence of exorcisms.
The turning point in the Reverend Cotton’s life is the death of a young autistic boy during a supposed ‘exorcism’. His fears for his own disabled son brings to light the dangers of his profession and he decides to bring a documentary crew on board to film one last exorcism which he has chosen at random from a list of requests. The mockumentary style is used throughout, to much greater effect than in films like Paranormal Activity. The filming is not too choppy, but manages to convey a sense of hidden secrets, misinformation and suspense.
The really disconcerting part of the film starts when Cotton heads South to visit the family of the young girl who is supposedly possessed. The locals are odd to say the least, and the general aura of the rural settlement is one of hostility, distrust and xenophobia. One woman claims that the gateway to hell is nearby, while another helpfully gives then directions to the local UFO landing site. The family itself if heavily religious and the relationships between father, son and daughter seem suspicious, even abusive or incestuous.
The depiction of the ‘possession’ is truly creepy – unsettling in a way that few horror movies have managed to achieve over the years. The posters and trailers really didn’t serve to promote the best aspects of this movie. It’s not about special effects or crazy stunts, it’s a true immersion in a fundamentally religious and deeply flawed society. Realism is achieved through a great script, and several previously unknown actors make stunning debuts.
The ambiguity of Nell’s condition is really well done, leaving room for several different interpretations. I personally always resort to the sceptic’s explanation of abusive parents combined with paranoid schizophrenia with religious delusions, but this may not be the best mindset to have while watching – the film makes no definitive ruling until the very end, and even then… well it really has to be seen to be believed. Definitely worth a worth, whether you like the adrenaline rush of horror films, or just enjoy a good suspenseful, unpredictable storyline.